Grief for woman lost in house fire

Donna Franchino, who stepped up to fill all kinds of needs, will leave a profound gap

By Emily Gillespie, Columbian breaking news reporter

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More than 100 people gathered Saturday at the site of a fatal house fire in the Sifton area to mourn the passing of a woman they described as "everybody's mom."

Donna Franchino, 58, died Friday after a house fire ripped through her home at 15209 N.E. 74th St., her family confirmed Saturday.

"She was always the first person in the neighborhood to welcome new neighbors and let the kids know that our home was their home," said Franchino's daughter, Nicole Franchino. Looking at the many people who endured the rain to pay their respects, she said: "These are all her kids; she took care of everybody."

Candles illuminated tear-streaked faces as people shared their memories of Donna Franchino.

Originally from New York, she was heavily affected by the Sept. 11 attacks.

She once dated a firefighter and got to know members of his ladder company in Manhattan. "They took me under their wing," Donna Franchino told The Columbian in September 2001. She helped raised $3,200 for the families of the firefighters who died in the tragedy.

The national tragedy spurred her to take on a career as a technician in the emergency room at Providence Portland Medical Center, Nicole Franchino said.

Virgil Adamson worked alongside Donna Franchino for nine years as a security guard at the hospital.

She often showed her love, he said, by cooking.

"Your waistline would expand when you worked with her," he said. Adamson said she would stay up late after a graveyard shift to cook for others, and she was known for bringing in multiple cheesecakes at a time.

Working the night shift together, the two saw their share of uncooperative patients.

"Even with people that made her mad, she'd help them no matter what," he said. "The community lost someone very special."

"My mom is everybody's mom," Nicole Franchino, 24, said. "She was just an all-around definition of a mother."

Donna Franchino was given the lifesaving award by the Vancouver Fire Department in 2009 when she and two neighbors saved the life of Donna's husband, Dino Franchino. While Donna Franchino was driving, her husband suffered a heart attack in a car and fell across her. The three used CPR to keep him alive until paramedics arrived.

"She had the biggest heart in the world," Nicole said. She paused for a moment and then said, "I can't remember the last time she bought herself anything. She put everybody before herself."

'My brother's a hero'

Firefighters were called to the house at 10:19 a.m. Friday when a neighbor called 911.

Donna Franchino's son, Vincent Franchino, tried in vain to save his mother, who was trapped in a bedroom. Arriving fire crews worked to rescue Franchino by cutting a hole in an exterior wall near the bedroom window, but fire officials said she didn't survive.

"My brother did everything he could to try to save my mom," said Nicole Franchino. "My brother's a hero to me."

An earlier report that Donna Franchino had recently undergone surgery was incorrect. Nicole Franchino said that her mother had recently had teeth pulled, but had not been sedated or given anesthesia for the procedure.

The family is grappling with losing not only a mother and a wife, but also their home of 22 years. The house, which is insured, was destroyed by the fire that extended into every room, leaving just the framing standing in parts of the remains.

Nicole Franchino said that her dad and brother are staying with neighbors, while she has her own apartment in east Vancouver.

"We're honestly living minute-to-minute at this point," she said. "We don't really know what happened."