Germantown fire leaves one victim dead on second floor of home

GERMANTOWN, Md. (WJLA) - A 65-year-old man died Thursday morning in a Germantown house fire; his wife saved from the inferno by a Montgomery County Police detective.

Around 7:20 a.m., the shrill of smoke detectors woke the couple living in the colonial-style home along the 13500 block of Jamieson Place. Firefighters say the woman ran to an adjacent bedroom where her husband was sleeping. Inside she saw flames coming from an electric fire place. Initially appearing to be small in size, fire crews say the woman sprinted downstairs to grab a pail of water as her husband worked to contain the blaze.

About that same time, Detective Mario Mastrangelo was making his morning commute into work. Because Thursday was 'Take Your Kids To Work Day,' Mastrangelo was with his fourth and seventh grade children.

"And I saw the smoke coming from the home," Mastrangelo, who works in the Family Crimes Division as a child abuse investigator, said. "It's always in you, that instinct to want to save someone."

The veteran officer followed the billowing black smoke, ultimately slamming on the breaks in his unmarked squad car when he came upon the fire. Coincidentally, a retired Montgomery County officer was already standing in the front yard, accessing the scene. Together the two cops grabbed a garden hose and sprinted through the front door. Through a maze of haze, they soon found the woman sitting in her kitchen, totally disoriented.

"The smoke was so thick, the breathing was so labored. I mean I felt like I was going to pass out," Mastrangelo, who was wearing a business suit and tie during the mid-morning rescue, added. "I told her we had to get out of the house, there was so much smoke, and you could feel the heat."

But in a state of delirium, the woman was reluctant to move, telling the officers she first needed to find her dog, husband and oxygen tank.

"I pretty much carried her out of the home. I wanted to get her out, she needed to get out," Mastrangelo said.

With his kids peering out the squad car windows, the detective hauled the woman's limp body, and her small dog to the front lawn. He and the other officer then darted back into the burning home, planning to save the woman's husband trapped in the bedroom above the garage.

"I got to almost the second-to-last step, the flames were about up to here," Mastrangelo said raising his hand to his waist. "Smoke was intense...and the roof at that point almost started to come down."

With the ceiling blistering, and their clothes starting to burn, both officers made the difficult decision to abandon the home. Firefighters later recovered the man's burnt body. Officials have not released his name.

"It hurts. I'm glad I was able to get the elderly woman out. I just wish I could have gotten both," Mastrangelo remarked. "It was tough."

Mastrangelo's son and daughter sat in a state of shock as their dad emerged for a second time, sweating and coughing profusely.

"It's really hard to process all of that because you're like, 'my dad just ran into a burning building and came out with some person we don't even know," nine-year-old Daniela Mastrangelo remarked. "I'm pretty proud to know he's my father, and that he saved someone's life. It's pretty huge for me."

As the swarm of fire engines and ladder trucks and ambulances dwindled one-by-one, residents in the Germantown Estates neighborhood gathered to assess the aftermath, and recollect on the life lost.

"He was a good guy. He took a lot of pride in that house. You always saw him outside in the yard. I just feel for his kids who are getting that call today," neighbors Debbie and Len Myers stated. "It sure puts life in perspective."

Paramedics transported the woman to a local hospital. Doctors say her injuries are non-life-threatening. An exact cause and damage totals were not immediately available.

This is Montgomery County's forth fatal fire of the year. Firefighters remind everyone that during any structure fire it's best to, "get out, and stay out."