FOSTORIA — Austin Rainey was set to take his firefighter’s test in just a few weeks.
But his body was found in his family’s rural Fostoria home on Thursday by his fellow firefighters. Mr. Rainey, 19, was a volunteer cadet with the Bascom Joint Fire District. Assistant Chief Chris Daniel said Friday Mr. Rainey was on his way to becoming a firefighter next month upon completion of his test.
"As a chief officer, you can tell when you have good recruits and when they're coming in and they have the drive and fire to continue to be great firefighters," said Assistant Chief Daniel. "Austin was one of those people."
Crews responded to the blaze at 10331 State Rt. 18 in Louden Township, east of Fostoria, early Thursday. It is believed his four family members — including his mother, father, younger brother, and younger sister, were also in the home.
Identities of those in Mr. Rainey’s family had not been confirmed by officials as of Friday.
An autopsy was to be performed on all of the victims Friday, according to the Lucas County Coroner’s Office. As of Friday afternoon, information regarding the autopsy was not available by the Seneca County Coroner Mark Akers, who would be the one to release the details. He declined to comment through a spokesman.
A spokesman for the State Fire Marshal’s Office said officials continued to investigate Friday how the fatal fire started.
Bascom volunteer firefighters joined the state investigators, searching through the rural home near Fostoria. An excavator began tearing down some of the charred walls. A firefighter sprayed water onto a pile of rubble in what appeared to be a kitchen. The only thing standing in the room remained a warped, melted stove.
They searched through a small dresser, trying to salvage any remaining items.
Two women stood watch Friday as firefighters worked. They had tears in their eyes as they linked arms.
Crews continue working pic.twitter.com/Ce98A8VRtp— Allison Reamer (@AllisonRBlade) October 27, 2017
They identified themselves as family, but declined to comment.
A young girl, believed to have died in the fire, called 911 from her father’s cellphone at 3:46 a.m., authorities said.
The Fostoria Fire Department was the first department called to the scene Thursday morning, followed by Bascom firefighters, according to Assistant Chief Daniel.
Bascom firefighters acknowledged their call within 3 minutes and were on the scene within 10 minutes of their dispatch call, according to the assistant chief. The fire scene is approximately 4.5 miles from their fire station and 24 of the department’s 34 members fought the blaze.
A Seneca County spokesman said on Thursday that arriving firefighters were unable to get inside the burning house because the flames and smoke were too intense.
Firefighters from Old Fort, New Riegel, Kansas, and Attica-Venice-Reed also responded to the fully engulfed house fire.
Responding to a fatal house fire of one of their own has been challenging, said Assistant Chief Daniel. He fought back tears as he looked at the home, which was completely exposed from the front. Signs of the family’s life were among the debris — clothing, a smashed pumpkin, and an untouched swing set in the backyard.
"Even though this is our job and this is what we're used to, we're all volunteers, and this isn't necessarily something we all sign up for," the assistant chief said. "We always know people are having a bad day when they call us, but this goes above and beyond that."
Bascom firefighters left the scene approximately 5 p.m. Thursday, had dinner together, and staged a debriefing session.
“That helped a lot. That helped us express a lot of our frustration, concerns, but it also put some peace in us knowing we did our job we were called to do,” said Assistant Chief Daniel.
While firefighters worked Friday, one of their wives dropped off a bag of food. They passed it among each other.
The Hopewell-Loudon School district has received an outpouring of support from the local and neighboring communities, said the district's superintendent David Alvarado.
Counselors and bus drivers from area districts offered a hand, local clergy came to the school, and Anna, a comfort dog, walked the school's halls on Friday. A Critical Incident Stress Management team of Western Ohio has also been available for those in the district.
Mr. Alvarado confirmed Austin Rainey graduated from the school, but he declined to identify the names, ages, or genders of the other children who attended the school. He said the family was well-known and well-liked in the community.
"This was a tragic event for everyone," he said.