When Dylan Oxsen arrived at the scene of a house fire at about 3 p.m. on Jan. 25, he was on his own. Thick black smoke poured from the split-level ranch on Esta Road. He could hear someone calling from inside. There wasn’t time to think, never mind wait for backup. All the three-year Plymouth Police officer knew is that someone had called 911 from the address. The dispatcher hadn’t been able to glean much information before the call was disconnected.

So Oxsen – without any protective gear – went inside.

“I’m yelling for the guy and I hear him yelling back – ‘help, hurry, help,’” he said. “But it was tough to tell where it’s coming from. I look up the stairs and I can’t see anything. It’s all black and gray heavy smoke.”

In the chaos of the moment, he thought the man might be downstairs, so he headed there. Quickly realizing he wasn’t, Oxsen bounded up the steps, into an acrid wall of smoke. He made his way to the kitchen, where he was greeted by flames.

“About half the kitchen is fully engulfed,” he said. “The cabinets, ceiling, walls.”

In the middle of this rapidly worsening situation, he found the victim on the floor – a 100-year-old man who somehow had the presence of mind to call 911. (The Plymouth Independent was unable to contact him and is withholding his name.)

Oxsen noticed a slider door that opened to a deck. It was the fastest way out. He grabbed the man and immediately felt pain in his hand – the victim was wearing a coat made of a plastic-like material, Oxsen said. As soon as he touched it, the coat melted onto his flesh.   

“I pulled him outside to the back deck,” he said, “instead of trying to pick him up and carry him by myself.” That’s when another police officer arrived. Together, they carried the victim to the front yard. Soon, firefighters, EMS responders, and other backup were on the scene.

The Plymouth Fire Department estimated damage at $90,000. Fire Chief Neil Foley said the cause is still under investigation but is not considered suspicious in origin. Foley said that firefighters from three stations arrived on the scene within five minutes. When they went into the house, he said in an email, “they encountered heavy black smoke that had banked down to the floor.” The fire, contained to the kitchen, was quickly extinguished and the building ventilated, but “required extensive overhaul to ensure it was completely out,” he said.

The victim was taken to Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital-Plymouth for treatment of undisclosed injuries.

Plywood covers a window at 61 Esta Road, scene of a Jan. 25 fire. Credit: (Photo by Mark Pothier)

Oxsen, 28, said he spoke to nurses at the hospital and was told he is “doing fine.” He’s a World War II veteran who lives in the house at 61 Esta Road with his wife, who was not home at the time.

He said his burns were not serious, and that he didn’t miss a single shift because of them. His response on that afternoon, he said, was instinctual.

“I didn’t even think about it. I saw the smoke coming out, I parked my car, and I just ran in,” he said. “Things could have gone wrong, sure. But they didn’t. I’m OK, and as far as I know, he is, too.”

It might have been an “all in the line of duty” moment to Oxsen, but Police Chief Dana Flynn wasn’t going to let the heroic action go unrecognized.

In a memo awarding Oxen with the department’s Life-Saving Award, Flynn wrote, “Through the heavy smoke, you made your way to the kitchen, which was engulfed in flames. You were able to locate the man and drag him outside. You saved the man’s life.”

Mark Pothier can be reached at mark@plymouthindependent.org.

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