2015-06-26 / Front Page

2008 KHS grad dies in house fire

Kennebunk fire death first in a generation
By Duke Harrington Staff Writer

The remains of the home at 305 Cat Mousam Road in Kennebunk where Kyle Szlosek, 25, died in a house fire early Monday morning. (Duke Harrington photo) The remains of the home at 305 Cat Mousam Road in Kennebunk where Kyle Szlosek, 25, died in a house fire early Monday morning. (Duke Harrington photo) KENNEBUNK — A house fire that caused one death early Monday is the first such fatality in Kennebunk in more than a generation, local officials say.

“I searched our computer records and found nothing,” Kennebunk Fire Chief Jeffrey Rowe said. “But relying on the memory of some of our older members, we believe the last fire death in town was some 20 years ago, in the 1993 to 1995 time range.”

According to Rowe, the 911 call came in at 2:02 a.m. June 22, for a fire at 305 Cat Mousam Road.

However, the home was fully engulfed by the time firefighters arrived, and a search and rescue team was unable to save Kyle Szlosek, 25, of Glen Burnie, Maryland who was in town to visit his ailing mother.

Szlosek was a 2008 graduate of Kennebunk High School who attended York County Community College. At the time of his dead, Szlosek was an organizer, facilitator and public speaker with the Occupy Wall Street movement. His Facebook page has become a memorial to his life, with dozens of farewell messages from friends in and out of the Occupy movement.

A press release issued Monday afternoon by Maine Department of Public Safety spokesman Stephen McCausland said Szlosek “died of smoke inhalation,” making it probable, based on Rowe’s description of the scene, that Szlosek was dead by the time firefighters attempted their rescue, although the chief declined to say as much.

Szlosek’s father, Paul Szlosek, 62, and his older brother, Jonathan Cressey, 31, of Suffolk, Virginia, escaped the blaze, although the elder Szlosek was taken to Maine Medical Center in Portland to be treated for smoke inhalation.

According to McCausland, the brothers were in town to visit their mother, who has been hospitalized. He did not describe the nature of her illness.

McCausland said investigators from the State Fire Marshal’s Office determined the fire started in a first-floor living room, “either from smoking (materials) or a malfunctioning computer.” There were no smoke detectors in the home, he said.

The home had been owned by Paul and Elizabeth Szlosek since 1990, according to Kennebunk assessing records. The building, on 3.1 acres, was assessed by the town at $180,700. Although an addition and barn behind the home sustained little damage, the building itself is considered a total loss, officials say. Online records do not give an age for the home. However, Chief Rowe estimated the construction to be “early 1900s, or maybe even a little before that.”

According to Rowe, nearly 40 firefighters helped beat down the blaze, which took “about an hour” to get under control. In addition to Kennebunk, crews from Wells, Arundel, Sanford and Biddeford responded to the call, as did Wells EMS, while Kennebunkport moved up to man Kennebunk’s central station.

“Picture a nice, older, two-story colonial,” said Rowe, drawing a picture of the scene. “Now draw a line down the middle from the entry door and everything from the right, first and second floor, was fully engulfed in flames when we arrived, with heavy smoke coming out from the left side.

“Firefighters couldn’t make the front entryway because of the intensity of the fire,” Rowe said. “We put a ladder up to the left side of the building and firefighters entered through a window searching for the occupant that was reported trapped in the building when the first call came in.

“It was very smoky, very hot, and almost as soon as the firefighters got in there they were forced back by the rapid spread of the fire,” Rowe said.

In separate statements, both Rowe and McCausland said Cressey, who was in a second-floor bedroom on the right side of the building, awoke first to the danger.

“He was able to escape the fire by climbing onto a porch roof from the second floor, McCausland said. “Once on the ground, he then helped his father escape through a firstfloor bedroom window.”

“He heard him calling for help and got him across the street to a neighbor’s, who called 911,” Rowe said. “He then tried to save his brother, but was unable to get back inside the building.”

“Investigators say smoke detectors would likely have given the family enough time to safely escape the burning house,” McCausland said.

Although this is believed to be the first fatal fire in Kennebunk in more than 20 years, it is the eighth fire-related death in Maine so far in 2015. Last year, 25 people died in structure fires in Maine, a record last eclipsed in 1993, when there were 27 deaths caused by fires.

In general, both house fires and related fatalities have been on the decline in recent years, thanks to smoke detectors, sprinkler systems, stronger building codes and general safety awareness.

Following a deadly fire in Portland last year that killed six young people, McCausland reported that Maine averaged 49 fire deaths per year from the 1950s through the 1970s. However, from 2000 to 2013, that number had dropped to average of 17 fire deaths per year.

“These days, if we have eight to 10 structural type fires of any type in a year, that would be a lot for our community,” Rowe said. “Folks in Kennebunk are very aware safetyand fire protection-wise.

“We appreciate the mutual aid we received from our surrounding communities. We rely on them heavily, as they do on us. More importantly, our thoughts go out to family and friends of the victims.”

Rowe said the Red Cross was called in to help aid the family with recovery and grief counseling.

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