Becky Sloan’s last memory was going to sleep in her second-floor bedroom at her parents’ home on Kincaid Street in South Portland.

When she woke up, she was in a hospital bed. Her arms were restrained. A plastic tube had been placed in her throat to help her breathe.

“It was a lot of panic not knowing: Why am I here? What happened?” said Sloan, 33. It had been two days, and she could not remember the fire at all.

“Tons of people said, ‘What can we do, what can we do?’ ” said Sloan’s mother, Brenda, 54. “I said, ‘Pray for Becky.’ ”

That was more than two weeks ago, when Sloan, unconscious and badly burned, was pulled from her bedroom by a group of fast-acting firefighters. They rushed her to Maine Medical Center, where she was in critical condition after the Oct. 31 blaze. The fire gutted the second floor of the family’s home in South Portland’s Ferry Village neighborhood. Sloan was the only person injured; the family dog and cat also survived.

Doctors estimated she had full-depth third degree burns over 20 percent of her body.

Now after undergoing skin grafts and other treatments, Sloan is almost ready to leave the hospital and begin physical therapy, she said.

In her first interview after the fire, Sloan said last week that she is grateful for the help of the firefighters who pulled her from the home, and for her brother, Kevin Sloan, who was up studying that night when he first smelled smoke.

“The smoke detectors didn’t go off,” Brenda Sloan said. “He was the one running up and down the stairs.”

As she sat in her third-floor hospital bed, Becky Sloan said she feels lucky to be alive.

“God has a reason, obviously, for me to be here,” Sloan said. “I’ve just been trying to get a grasp on what that is. Maybe helping other people.”

Fire investigators told the family that they could not pinpoint the exact origin of the flames, which started in Sloan’s room – one culprit could have been an extension cord, said Sloan’s mother. But the fire investigators know for sure that the flames were exacerbated by a medical device, an oxygen concentrator, that Sloan used to help her breathe. The device exploded in the room, growing the fire.

According to three of the firefighters who helped rescue her, Sloan was lying against the bedroom door, unconscious, when they found her.

Inside her room, flames had already consumed her bed and were racing up the walls, throwing off heat intense enough to force the rescue workers to the floor.

In a harrowing piece of choreography, five firefighters maneuvered in a cramped hallway landing to force open Sloan’s bedroom door, drag her from the room and quickly knock down the flames, while other firefighters rushed her to a waiting ambulance.

It was the second brush with death for Sloan in two years.

Sloan said that last year she spent months in the hospital on and off battling cryptogenic organizing pneumonia, a rare lung disease that nearly killed her. Doctors do not know what causes the condition, which is not an infection but still results in inflammation of the tiny passageways in the lungs.

She had a relapse of the disease in September, and spent two weeks at Mercy Hospital in Portland before she returned to her parents’ house on Kincaid Street to recover.

Brenda Sloan said she’s been overwhelmed by the support from the South Portland community. The home was also fully insured and will be rebuilt by springtime.

Becky Sloan is still grappling with her recovery, and has had to deal with the shock of having her head shaved. Doctors found burns on her scalp, requiring them to shave her shoulder-length brown hair.

“The biggest thing that’s bothering my 6-year-old niece is that I don’t have hair,” Sloan said, chuckling. “She said, ‘We’ll have to get you some hats.’ ”

 

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