2012-08-31 / Front Page

Community rallies to help doctor

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer

South Portland Fire Chief Kevin Guimond said the roof of this house at 554 Main St. in South Portland collapsed in flames minutes after firefighters responded to the scene the morning of Wednesday, Aug. 15. (Jack Flagler photo) South Portland Fire Chief Kevin Guimond said the roof of this house at 554 Main St. in South Portland collapsed in flames minutes after firefighters responded to the scene the morning of Wednesday, Aug. 15. (Jack Flagler photo) SOUTH PORTLAND – When South Portland Police Officer Shane Stephenson responded to a fire call on Main Street in the early morning hours of Wednesday, Aug. 15, he noticed that the owner of the building, Dr. Alan Williams, was standing outside without any shoes.

“You can’t help but feel for people when they’re in situations like that,” Stephenson said.

So the officer, who had responded to the scene to handle crowd control and keep people away from a downed live power line, left for the police station to retrieve a pair of boots from his locker for Williams.

That gesture from the officer was the first of many offers of support for Williams in the days and weeks following the fire.

On the way, Stephenson ran into another officer, Peter Corbett, out for a morning walk with his dog.

Stephenson and Corbett went back to Corbett’s home, where they found a pair of boots in the garage. Stephenson returned to the scene of the fire to give the boots to Williams.

“You could imagine, he lost pretty much everything,” Stepheson said. “It was definitely heartbreaking to see that stuff, people being in situations like that.”

Stephenson said he wanted to give Williams a pair of socks as well, he usually keeps a clean pair in his locker, but he didn’t have any that day.

“It’s almost overwhelming how generous people have been,” Williams said.

Williams’s primary focus since the fire has been to revive his chiropractic practice. Although the fire affected the second floor of his building, where his personal possessions were, more than it affected the first floor, where he ran his practice, much of his professional equipment was still ruined.

Williams said he initially began looking for a new space to lease. But he plans to move back into his original building when it is rebuilt in six months to a year, and many commercial leases he found required a more longterm commitment. So Dr. Michael Goulding, a fellow chiropractor from the Portland area, stepped up with an offer to share his office space with Williams.

Goulding operates his practice on Revere Street in the Woodford’s Corner neighborhood of Portland.

Goulding said he and Williams have covered for each other in the past, and he heard about the fire when one of Williams’s patients called him. Goulding then went to the house on Main Street, saw the damage and, after meeting with other members of the Maine Chiropractic Association, decided he should do something to help.

“I think this will be a good fit for each other,” Goulding said. “I’ve known him for a while and I like the guy.”

The Maine Chiropractic Association also has made an effort as a whole to help Williams recover. The organization will offer Williams free dues for the upcoming year, as well as free seminars to help ease the financial burden on the South Portland doctor.

“It’s just people coming together like they do in Maine just to help out. It’s a close association,” said John Royce, executive director of the Maine Chiropractic Association.

Royce said Williams has been a member of the association for more than 20 years.

“He’s kind of a quiet individual, always there if you need him. Anything I’ve ever asked for, Alan’s been very willing,” Royce said.

Williams also received help with recovery outside of the professional realm. Although he said he initially declined assistance from the American Red Cross of Maine, the organization provided a huge boost by donating a debit card that allowed Williams to purchase food and clothes for himself and his partner, Mary. He said patients have also offered donations of food and accommodations, either in person, on the phone or through his Facebook page.

Jason Shedlock, regional director of communications and government relations at the American Red Cross of Maine, said the majority of the assistance the organization provides is related to fire calls, and volunteers are available at all times to respond to emergencies. Donations can be made at www.maineredcross.org.

Williams also praised both the police department and the South Portland Fire Department for their efficient and effective response to the fire, which South Portland Fire Chief Kevin Guimond said started around 4 a.m. and was caused by a recessed lighting fixture.

“When you’re standing watching your building burn, it seems like an eternity,” Williams said. “But they did move very quickly and they didn’t allow the other buildings to be involved.”

Guimond said the roof of the building collapsed a few minutes after the fire started, but no one was hurt, as all the firefighters were able to evacuate the building.

The flames were put out by 6 a.m., and Guimond said firefighters and police stayed on the scene until about 11 a.m. He said the building where the fire began was a total loss, and about $10,000 of damage was done to the siding of the building next door, owned by another chiropractor, his brother Dr. Malcolm Williams.

“It was incredible. I’ve never seen it happen quite that quickly. The roof literally folded down,” Guimond said. “Thank God we got (the firefighters) out, we would have been in rough shape.”

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