Despite multiple rescue attempts, 15-year-old Gloucester girl dies from fire

GLOUCESTER — Victoria McCabe Schmelzer, 15, who was rescued from the smoke-filled bedroom of her blazing home by Gloucester firefighters Tuesday night died on Wednesday morning, officials said.

“Despite really heroic efforts, the outcome is just tragic for the family,’’ said Gloucester Mayor Carolyn A. Kirk. “It’s a sad day in Gloucester.’’

State Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan said in a statement that the cause of the fire was an accident. Combustible materials came into contact with a lamp in the second floor bedroom of the victim’s 17-year-old brother and then ignited.

“This tragedy occurred despite the heroic efforts of the Gloucester firefighters who were able to rescue and revive her,’’ Coan said.


When Gloucester firefighters arrived at 36 Summer St. Tuesday night, they were the latest in a wave of people frantically trying to rescue the teenage girl, who was trapped in her second-floor bedroom by a deadly combination of heat, smoke, and flames.

Her 17-year-old brother had rushed up to the second floor of the two-family trying to lead her to safety, but was driven back by the flames pouring out the door of his bedroom, said Gloucester Deputy Fire Chief Stephen Aiello. Gloucester police tried, too, but were also forced to retreat by the life-threatening conditions, he said.

McCabe Schmelzer was finally rescued when three firefighters from Engine 1 pushed the wall of flames back into the son’s bedroom with powerful sprays of water, said Aiello. He said firefighters from Ladder 1, who climbed the exterior of the three-story, two-family, arrived at the girl’s side at the same time.

Aiello said that “we believe she was asleep when the fire broke out. Her brother did call to her and she did respond verbally. She couldn’t make it out into the hallway because of the heat and smoke.’’

A neighbor described the girl as “a sweetie … nice little girl, friendly friendly.’’


Madeline Campbell, 69, who lives across the street, said she always used to see McCabe Schmelzer outside playing with the family dog, a miniature collie named Bella. Campbell said she has a beagle named Pepper, and Victoria was always delighted to have the two dogs play together.

“Every time the little girl sees me, she says, ‘Oh, Bella, let’s go see Pepper!’ ’’ said Campbell. “Bella and her used to run across and see my puppy.’’

Campbell said that she and her neighbors stood out on the street during the fire, and that at first, she did not think the fire was that serious.

“All I seen was one window with fire, and outside a little bit,’’ she said. “The fire was in the walls. … It was worse than you could see.’’

Officials said some smoke detectors in the house functioned properly, but investigators are continuing to study how the detectors functioned when the fire broke out.

Aiello said the incident was particularly painful for Firefighter Jon Sanger, who once lived across the street from the house that burned, and who knew McCabe Schmelzer.

“It was his daughter’s girlfriend,’’ Aiello said of Sanger from Engine 1.

Aiello added: “It’s a tough situation when you find that a 15-year-old girl is trapped in her bedroom in the middle of the night. But when you live in the same neighborhood and you know the family … it’s heartwrenching.’’

Aiello said McCabe Schmelzer was rescued four minutes after firefighters arrived at the scene, and that it took the units just three minutes to reach the burning house, which is about four blocks from the fire house.


“If we had been delayed a couple more minutes, the fire rescue effort probably would have been impossible, “Aiello said.

He said the fire started by accident in the brother’s bedroom when some papers caught fire because they were kept too close to a table lamp. Smoke detectors went off in the building.

He said the brother was treated for minor burns and Gloucester police were treated for smoke inhalation. The other residents living in the two-family were safely evacuated.