Man saves his family from apartment fire

Published 2:17 pm Monday, September 6, 2021

Dean Baselice was relaxing on the couch in his upstairs apartment at Balasa Drive when he heard what sounded like something blowing around on his porch. He saw shadows moving outside from behind his blinds.

He remembered it being a nice day, so he was confused because he knew it wasn’t storming outside. He looked out the window and saw that a trash bag he had set outside the night before was melting and appeared to be on fire. He thought at first that was the extent of the fire.

“I went to go open the door, and the flames shot inward toward me, and then I quickly realized that it’s not just a little flame,” Baselice said.

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It was Aug. 28, when the Danville Fire Department responded to a large structure fire in one of the Village Apartments buildings at Balasa Drive during which four apartments in the building were severely damaged from fire, water, and smoke, and families were displaced. No one was injured.

Deputy Fire Chief Mike Mulholland said as of Friday afternoon that the cause of the fire was still under investigation.

Mulholland said some people needed to jump out an upstairs window to get to a safe place. Baselice’s family was one of these families. The fire happened around mid-day, he said.

When Baselice saw that his only entrance, the flight of stairs leading to their door, was blocked, he acted quickly. He described himself as the type of person who ponders “what if” scenarios and tries to come up with a plan, one of them being what his plan would be should his family’s apartment catch fire and the main entrance was blocked. So he knew he and his wife and daughters would need to use the window to get out.

“Even though I knew, it still happened so fast,” he said.

He went to the back bedroom, where his wife Andrea Baselice was lying in bed recovering from COVID-19, and where his daughters were, to use the window in the bedroom. He told them that there was a fire and they had to get out of the apartment, then lowered Andrea from the window as far as he could. He said she fell into a bush, scratching up her back, but she was otherwise unscathed.

He then lowered his 5-year-old daughter Nahlah down to Andrea. By this time, neighbors in surrounding apartment complexes were rushing toward the window to help out, and helped lower Nahlah. Then he lowered 2-year-old Maya to safety.

He managed to also save the family’s 80-pound dog, which he lifted and struggled to lower out the window — she didn’t want to go. Her paws clutched the windowsill, so Dean pushed her out, knowing she might get hurt but also knowing it was better than being trapped inside the burning building. All four of her paw pads were scratched up, and she’s now recovering.

Before he exited, he took a look around the apartment to see if he could salvage anything.

“And at that time, the black smoke had rolled through the hallway into our bedroom,” he said.

It was too late to save the family’s possessions.

Baselice finally jumped out himself, hit the ground and remembered the family’s two cats were still upstairs. In the end, the cats didn’t make it. He said he feels bad about it, but he knows he likely wouldn’t have been able to save them, considering they were likely hiding under furniture, and he wouldn’t have had time to find them and get them out.

He said the whole series of events happened in the span of about a minute and a half, or two minutes. If he had responded even a minute later than he did, someone could have gotten hurt.

“It happened, and I was completely ready for it and made it happen in a minute and a half and everybody was out.”

Nearly all of the family’s possessions were destroyed, including Andrea’s car, which was parked close to the building. Dean’s car was salvaged, as well as the photos inside his and his parents’ wedding albums. The album itself was destroyed, but some of the photos were saved.

“One of the firefighters threw down my wedding album,” he said. “That was a little light in the dark there.”

He said the family unfortunately didn’t have renter’s insurance because “nobody ever thinks they need the renters’ insurance,” but Red Cross was there to help the affected families. He said they were ready with bags of toiletries, put the family’s information in a database and gave them a card with funds on it.

The family is now staying with Dean’s mother, who lives near Hustonville. As for his daughters, Dean said Maya is young enough that she doesn’t quite know what’s going on, and though Nahlah knows there was a fire and most of the family’s belongings were lost, his daughters are “just running around grandma’s house, having fun.”

Dean said knowing his family is safe, “That’s what keeps my head up.”

The plan going forward is that after they leave Dean’s mother’s house, the family will live in a house that Dean’s father bought in Danville — his main home is in Florida — for a few months until they can save up for a new residence. Dean said knowing everyone got out is what keeps him going.

“If it wasn’t for those ‘what if’ games, I probably would have freaked out, panicked. I’m just glad I remained calm, because that’s pretty much what saved us in the end.”