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Injured firefighter talks about battling Shadyside blaze



PITTSBURGH - Several firefighters were hurt and a teenager was arrested in connection with a fire in Shadyside early Monday morning.

Channel 11's Kelly Brennan reported that 18-year-old James Casson was arrested in connection with the blaze. Officials said the teen lives in a care home near where the fire started.

A witness told investigators Casson was on the roof of the behavioral group home next door, where he lives, lighting towels and clothes on fire and tossing them onto the roof next door, fire officials said.

Firefighters said the blaze began at a home that was turned into four apartments on Maryland Avenue around 2:30 a.m. Brennan reported that the owner and one tenant live in the building.

The owner of the building said he didn't know his house was on fire until firefighters were knocking at his door.

“He thought someone was trying to break in, so he called 911, and they said, ‘Your house is on fire and you have to get out,’” the homeowner’s sister, Rosa Lee, said.

Three firefighters were hurt in a flashover, when a room on the third floor reached about 1,100 degrees and ignited, arson Detective Michael Burns said.

"At that point, you hear that call come in, and I focus my efforts and manpower on accountability and getting our guys out of there. Now the fire gets to gain headway on you," said Battalion Chief Tim Kopicko.

All of the injured firefighters were treated at area hospitals and have since been released.

One of the injured firefighters, Keith Ott, posted on Facebook, “Thank you everyone for your prayers and support. I’m OK. I’m in some pain and have some burns.”

“My face on the side and ears caught a lot of heat. This side also had second-degree burns,” Ott said. “We were just engulfed in flames and heat. I knew we were in trouble and my instincts told me to go.”

According to Channel 11’s news exchange partners at TribLIVE, Casson has lived at the Residential Care Services Inc. group home for six days, Executive Director Beth Monteverde said.

Seven people diagnosed with mental health issues and referred by the county stay at the home, which teaches daily living skills to residents, Monteverde said.

Staff work at the home 24 hours a day, she said.

“When I first saw on the news I had choice words for the kid, but I can’t stay angry,” Ott said. “I’ll take this any day. As long as we’re all home, that’s all that matters.”

Police said Casson is charged with arson, risking a catastrophe, reckless endangerment and other crimes. He remains at the Allegheny County Jail.