Riverview Towers fire victims reunite with rescuers

Riverview Towers residents reunite with rescuers
Published: May. 10, 2023 at 5:58 AM EDT
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OGDENSBURG, New York (WWNY) - More than a year after a fire forced them out of their homes, residents at Riverview Towers in Ogdensburg reunited with their rescuers.

“When I was in there, I was like ‘oh, my God, have I got to walk down that ladder, are they going to get to me?’” Sandy Sanders said. “Sticking my head out the window and all the kind of crazy things going on in my head: “‘Is this the day I am going to die?’”

Sanders was on the fifth floor of Riverview Towers on March 8, 2022.

It was a day many of these residents will never forget.

“We heard the alarm, but we have heard the alarm before and I saw the fireman and them, so I was going to run downstairs,” Sanders said, “but I forgot the elevator doesn’t work so I went back in my room and then the smoke started to come.”

The fire broke out in a sixth-floor unit after a resident’s oxygen tank exploded.

It brought first responders from across St. Lawrence County providing mutual aid to help in rescuing residents from the building

“I was a little worried because they said the fire was on the sixth floor and I have a son that lives on the 10th floor,” Carolyn McDonald said, “and he wasn’t able to get out after the first was out and that really scared me.”

On Tuesday, many of those residents came to the Dubisky Center to reunite with some of the first responders who helped them to safety that day, thanking them for the sacrifices they made for them.

“Yes, we were out, we were all freezing, most of us didn’t have shoes on, it was bad,” Diane Waterhouse said, “but they couldn’t babysit us and attend to the fire, so I understood that.”

In the days that followed, displaced tenants were taken to Wadhams Hall where many stayed for more than a week, some with only the clothes on their backs.

John Miller Jr., a teacher at Ogdensburg Free Academy and a former crisis coordinator, led much of that response until residents were placed in other temporary housing.

His efforts didn’t go unnoticed.

He was honored with the first-ever John B. Miller Jr. Community Service Award, a distinction that was created in his name by the local Office for the Aging.

“It means a great deal to me because I do things because it is the right thing to do and I know the people, if they were in a similar situation, they would do the same for me,” Miller said.

Many of the residents here have since moved back in.

“I like it because a lot of my mother’s things were there, that she left me,” Mike Giltinen said.

And they’ll tell you, there is no place like home.

“Happy I am back in my house, to have my cat, and I can sleep in my own bed,” Robin Stone said.