LEWISTON — Lt. James Pelletier walked through the weeds and over the rotten alleyway trash to gaze at the teetering porches and pried-open doors.

The longtime Lewiston firefighter and his Ladder One crew spent Friday checking vacant and condemned homes in the downtown and posting the now-familiar white and red “X” signs on second-story corners.

The symbol is a sign to firefighters that a building has structural problems and is probably vacant, important information if another apartment fire hits.

Alarms rousted Pelletier from his home for the trio of catastrophic apartment building fires that began on April 29 and, hopefully, concluded on May 6.

The first two fires consumed seven apartment buildings and left 200 people homeless. When the third call came early last Monday, he almost didn’t believe it.

“Seriously, when the pager went off at 3 o’clock in the morning, I thought, ‘Come on. This has got to be someone’s sick joke,'” he said. “Then I was like, maybe it’s a low battery in the pager. It’s been used a lot this week.'”

That meant more long hours, more pushing past fatigue and trying to be mindful of safety.

“We’ve been lucky,” he said. “We’ve been real lucky.”

The 35-year-old Sabattus man grew up wanting to ride in firetrucks, but he fought it.

“When I got out of high school, I went to business school for a couple of years and realized it wasn’t the thing for me,” he said.

He went home, drove a truck for a while and studied to become an emergency medical technician. That led him to enroll in the fire sciences program at Southern Maine Community College.

In January 2001, he joined the Lewiston Fire Department.

“It wasn’t one call where you go forward and say, let’s do this. Between car accidents and fires, you see stuff,” he said. “It’s one of those things where you start thinking well under pressure.”

Since April 2010, Pelletier has led his own three-person team: Ladder One, C Platoon.

“Basically, my job is anything,” he said. He does routine safety inspections. If water swamps a home or business, he expects a call. And if a fire hits, he and his crew have a set role.

“On a fire scene, we’re in charge of ventilation, search and rescue, laddering a building to make sure of the safety of our interior crews,” he said. “If we need to go defensive, we have the master stream on our ladder that will definitely put some water in there.”

It has made for some long nights.

For hours after each fire call, Pelletier, his crew and many others have been putting out hot spots in the ash and rubble. All fight fatigue and try to stay sharp.

“I’ve got to make sure you keep thinking, because I have a crew to worry about,” he said. “I need to make sure they all go home the next morning.”

Pelletier goes home to his bulldog, Titan, and rests as much as possible.

The public response to the fires has helped.

“It’s definitely been nice to see the support from the community,” he said. “They’ve really shown their appreciation.”

And though he’s had job offers from other departments, he has no plan on leaving.

“This is where I plan on retiring from,” he said.

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