'Couldn't believe what I was seeing': WRPS officer first to respond to A Better Tent City fire
Two housing units at A Better Tent City in Kitchener were damaged Thursday in a fire.
Emergency crews were called to 49 Ardelt Ave. around 3:18 a.m.
A few minutes later, an officer with the Waterloo Regional Police Service was driving on Highway 7/8 when he noticed the flames.
"I really couldn't believe what I was seeing," said Const. Nolan Di Diomete.
He pulled over to the side of the road and then saw a woman in distress, who said she thought someone was inside one of the units.
Di Diomete then hopped a barbed wire fence, and ran over to help.
"One minute feels like 10 minutes," he recounted. "At one point flames were pouring out of the side window of the fully engulfed unit, which then spread to the secondary adjacent building."
Di Diomete wasn't able to get inside the burning unit, but did get two people out of neighbouring shelters.
The person who lived in that unit was not home at the time, but instead staying with a friend.
Di Diomete was the only one taken to hospital for minor injuries he received from scaling the fence.
"I'm extremely happy that everyone involved in the shelter is OK," he said. "And most importantly, I know the community of Kitchener will rally around the victims affected by this."
"We are incredibly proud of the quick-thinking actions of Constable Nolan Di Diomete," said Police Chief Bryan Larkin in a media release. "[He] showed bravery in running towards the fire and ensuring the safety of residents."
Nadine Green, the site coordinator for A Better Tent City, said residents were left shaken by the early morning fire.
"People were in shock that they didn't hear or see anything," she said. "It was very cold, so it just puts residents out."
A Grand River Transit bus was brought in so residents had somewhere warm to stay while crews worked to put out the flames.
One of the housing units was severely damaged by fire.
"We're going to have to get [the resident] a new cabin," said Green. "They can't stay in that one, it's going to be torn down."
A second unit also had minor damage.
The Waterloo Regional Police Service said the damage estimate is at least $5,000, while Kitchener Fire put it closer to $20,000.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation but police don't believe it is suspicious.
-- With reporting by Ricardo Veneza
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