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News / Clark County News

Orchards man, a former volunteer firefighter, pulls neighbor away from flames to safety

Fire broke out at Nobl Park Apartments

By Becca Robbins, Columbian staff reporter
Published: November 20, 2023, 7:41pm

A resident of the Nobl Park Apartments braved a rapidly spreading blaze Saturday night to save his downstairs neighbor who was trapped inside when the two-alarm fire broke out.

Michael Shoemaker has lived at the Orchards apartment complex for four years with his son, daughter and girlfriend. Over the years, he’d gotten to know his neighbors, especially those in the unit below his.

“I’ll do anything for my neighbors,” Shoemaker said.

He was watching a movie with his son at about 8 p.m., he said, when they heard an explosion. He said he sent his 7-year-old daughter to her mother while he and his son headed downstairs to check on the source of the sound. That’s when he spotted the fire.

Shoemaker said he ran back to grab his phone and call 911. He saw one of his downstairs neighbors outside already, and he asked her where her roommate was. She didn’t know, and she said he could still be inside, Shoemaker said.

He eventually found the man inside a bedroom. Shoemaker grabbed fire extinguishers and tried to put out the flames himself. Once he’d expended two fire extinguishers, he knew he needed to move faster, he said.

Shoemaker said he poked his head outside for some fresh air. Then, he went back inside, grabbed his neighbor by his ankles and dragged him out.

Firefighters arrived shortly after, Shoemaker said, and he commended them for their quick work extinguishing the blaze. The Vancouver Fire Department said the fire was brought under control in about 15 minutes, but crews were on scene for several hours.

Firefighter-paramedics took the neighbor Shoemaker had saved to a hospital with serious injuries. Shoemaker said Monday the last he heard was that the man was still in the burn unit.

When things settled down, Shoemaker — who was wearing only shorts at the time — and his son went to the hospital to get checked out, he said. He had suffered minor burns on his back, he said. His son had scrapes on his arms and suffered smoke inhalation.

Shoemaker, a former volunteer firefighter in New York, said he always tries to help.

“It’s what I do,” he said. “I do what I can to help the community, whenever I can.”

Both Shoemaker’s and his neighbor’s units were destroyed in the fire, and the Vancouver Fire Department said a total of six people were displaced. Shoemaker and his family are staying with other neighbors until they can figure out where they’ll go.

“We’re OK. That’s all I care about,” he said.