Skowhegan police Officer Joel Cummings and his wife, Michelle, outside their Dinsmore Street home which caught fire Wednesday in Skowhegan. Morning Sentinel photo by Amy Calder

SKOWHEGAN — A longtime Skowhegan police officer and his family were displaced early Wednesday when a fire at their Dinsmore Street home destroyed about half the structure and many of their belongings.

Police Officer Joel Cummings said he and his wife, Michelle, were sleeping just before 6:15 a.m. when they woke to hear her twin sister, Melanie Alexander, who lives on the second floor of the two-story duplex, pounding on their door and screaming to alert them to the fire.

Cummings, who has been on the Skowhegan police force for 30 years and was a military police officer six years before that, said he has been the first to respond to fires during his career, but being on the other side Wednesday taught him an important lesson.

“One thing I learned today — you never have time to do what you think you can do in a fire,” Cummings said. “Just get the hell out. This went so fast.”

Michelle Cummings said she was able to jump out of a window with the couple’s two foster dogs, Mia and Ginger, a pit bull-mastiff mix and pit bull, respectively. By that time, the back side of the building was engulfed in flames, the couple said.

Skowhegan fire Chief Shawn Howard said the state fire marshal’s office was called in to help determine the cause of the fire, which the occupants saw first toward the rear of the building.


“They lost a significant amount,” Howard said. “We have been able to salvage some personal belongings, and hopefully they’ll be able to get in there and salvage more.”

Fire investigators inspect the scene of a fire Wednesday that heavily damaged a duplex on Dinsmore Street in Skowhegan. At left is Skowhegan police Officer Tifani Warren. Morning Sentinel photo by Amy Calder

He said about 50% of the building was damaged by fire and the other half sustained water damage. The American Red Cross was helping the families and the town also is giving them places to stay, he said.

“Crews did very well to stop it where it was for the amount of fire that was here,” Howard said.

Kathy and David Snell talk to a fire investigator Wednesday outside the north side of the duplex they own and rent out. The Skowhegan building was heavily damaged by fire. Morning Sentinel photo by Amy Calder

The three-story building, constructed around 1900, has a cedar shingled roof with tin over that, which made the fire difficult to fight.

“Right now we’re in the investigation stage,” Howard said at the scene. “There’s nothing suspicious. The state fire marshal’s office has arrived to assist us.”

Nearly 50 firefighters from Skowhegan, Waterville, Madison, Cornville, Canaan, Fairfield and Norridgewock worked at the scene, according to Howard.


He said many area fire departments have a shortage of firefighters and he is grateful for their help. They were able to prevent the fire from spreading to a nearby structure, according to Howard.

“We have to reach out to a lot of communities to get enough firefighters to respond,” he said. “The crew did do a good job.”

Skowhegan fire Chief Shawn Howard, left, at the scene of a fire Wednesday on Dinsmore Street. The duplex was heavily damaged. Morning Sentinel photo by Amy Calder

The large duplex on the bank of the Kennebec River is owned by David and Kathy Snell, who were at the scene Wednesday and said they purchased it in 1979 and lived there for a time. They said the building is insured.

Cummings said, however, that he and his family do not have renter’s insurance. They did at one time, but when the price continued to increase, they dropped it.

Fellow police officers, family and friends were gathered near the duplex’s large, scenic back yard that dips down to the Kennebec River, offering support to the families. The Cummings had planted neat gardens that were lined along a fence. Joel Cummings said he had been hearing from fellow public safety officials who offered to help.

“Support’s already rolling in,” he said. “We’re very, very grateful for it. We’ll be taken care of.”


Melanie Alexander, his sister-in-law who has lived in the building 12 1/2 years, said firefighters salvaged a lot of her belongings and she appreciated their efforts.

Tuesday, the day before the fire, was International Firefighters Day, Alexander said, and she had posted on social media the comment: “Have you prayed for your firefighters today?”

“I pray for them every year,” she said. “And today, I needed them. I’m very fond of the fire department.”

A call placed to the Office of State Fire Marshal just after 2:30 p.m. Wednesday was not immediately returned.

Dinsmore Street is a short road off Water Street that connects with Shirley Street, just west of Coburn Park.

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