Fatal fire caused by extension cordMemorial service for three victims this Friday

By on December 21, 2011

By: MICHELLE REIFF Review Staff mreiff.eph@lnpnews.com, Staff Writer

The tragic fire that took the lives of three family members as they slept in their Stevens home was caused by an improperly used extension cord.

Sgt. Larry Martin of the East Cocalico Township Police Department said Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Jamie DeWalt, fire marshal, ruled the cause of the fire to be accidental.

"It was caused by the misuse of an electrical extension cord in the living room on the first floor, the same room where Melvin Rissler (one of the victims) was sleeping," said Sgt. Martin, adding that there was no indication that it was related to Christmas decor.

Stevens and Reamstown fire companies were dispatched to the fire at 45 S. Line Road, next to Stevens United Zion Church, at 12:27 a.m. They found the building engulfed in smoke and flames and people trapped in the three-story home, according to Delvin Martin, a spokesperson for Stevens Fire Company.

The names of the three family members who died were released later in the day. They were Melvin Rissler, 83; his wife, Patti Rissler, 54; and their daughter, Rachel Rissler, 24. Melvin and Patti have owned the home since 1988.

"The initial 911 call was made by one of the occupants," said Martin. "As officers arrived on the scene of the fire, it immediately went to a second alarm assignment."

Denver, Lincoln, Ephrata, Schoeneck, Durlach/Mt. Airy and Smoketown fire companies and numerous EMS personnel, medics and ambulances assisted.

East Cocalico Township police officer Brian Dillipaine, who had just finished paperwork and was on patrol, was going in that direction when he heard the fire call. The officer, who has a background running with fire departments, was the first to arrive, greeted by heavy flames and smoke coming mostly from the right side of the building.

"I didn’t think anyone in the house could be alive," he said, until he heard a voice yelling for help. "My goal then was to try to find that person."

While communicating with 911, Dilliplaine located the window from which a girls voice was coming, barely visible through the smoke. He yelled for her to jump, and after some coaxing the girl, understandably hesitant, did just that.

She said "Here I come," and jumped out the window. Dilliplaine tried to catch her, thinking she was younger, ultimately saving her live. It was the Risslers’ daughter, 17-year-old Heather.

Dilliplaine attempted to rescue Rachel as well, kicking in the back first floor door and reaching inside by a couple of feet. He couldn’t see her through the heavy smoke but felt her foot and grabbed her. Officer Joshua Sola assisted in doing cardiopulmonary resusciation, but she had been in the building too far and long to survive. Her parents met the same fate.

Heather escaped with minor injuries. Dilliplaine suffered a knee injury and smoke inhalation and a firefighter had a minor back injury. All three were treated and released from Ephrata Community Hospital.

According to the East Cocalico Township Police Department, Patti, Rachel and Heather Martin were asleep on the second floor and Melvin was on the first floor. The Risslers had six children together, one of which was previously deceased. Another sibling and resident of the house, Jonathan Rissler, was not home during the fire. The two other daughters do not reside in the home.

In his years of service, Dilliplaine had assisted in rescues, but never involving four people trapped at one time. Upon arrival at the site, he knew that he would be there by himself for awhile.

"Right after it happened I thought it was a just doing your job kind of thing," he said. "But it’s kind of hitting me now. I honestly don’t know if she would have jumped if I wouldn’t have showed up," the officer said Tuesday afternoon.

Dilliplaine found out later that Heather’s mom was actually upstairs near that window talking to her at some point before she jumped.

Dillipaine is extremely appreciative for all the phone calls he has received. He feels the community is really sticking together during this tragedy.

Carol Bowman, congregational administrator for Ephrata Church of the Brethren, where the Risslers have been members, said the church is deeply saddened and also plans to help support the surviving family in whatever way they can.

"It is a loss. People are looking for ways that they can help," said Bowman. "Right now we are in need of monetary donations, that can be sent to Ephrata Church of the Brethren, c/o the Deacon Fund/Risslers, 201 Crescent Ave., Ephrata, PA 17522."

Bowman said all three children residing in the home had attended Cocalico High School at some point.

Dr. Bruce Sensenig, Cocalico School District superintendent, knew the parents and older children from his days as principal of Reamstown Elementary School.

"I am truly saddened by this loss. They were a kind and loving family," he said. "The parents cared for their children. The children, I sensed, had respect for their parents."

A memorial service will be held Friday. The following obituaries were received from the Stradling Funeral Home Tuesday afternoon.

Melvin N. Rissler, 83, of Stevens, passed away Monday, Dec. 12, 2011 at his residence.

He was born in Earl Township to the late Daniel and Elizabeth (Nolt) Rissler and was the husband of the late Patti L. (Heisey) Rissler.

Melvin was a member of the Ephrata Church of the Brethren. He worked as a truck driver.

Melvin is survived by four sons: Christian M., husband of Virginia, of Hopkinsville, Ky.; Philip M., husband of Verna, of Ephrata; Luke M., husband of Ellen, of Hopkinsville, Ky.; and Jonathan E., at home; five daughters: Anna M., of East Earl; Amelia M., of Morgantown; Sarah E., wife of Randy Diem, of Ephrata; Rebekah E., of Coatesville; and Heather N., at home. He was one of 13 brothers and sisters and is survived by 36 grandchildren and 43 great-grandchildren.

In addition to his wife, he was preceded in death by a daughter: Rachel L.; two sons: Elam and Matthew A.; and a granddaughter: Brianna E. Diem.

Patti L. (Heisey) Rissler, 54, of Stevens, passed away Monday, Dec. 12, 2011 at her residence.

She was born in Lancaster to the late Norman and Elizabeth (Koser) Heisey and was the wife of the late Melvin N. Rissler.

Patti was a member of Ephrata Church of the Brethren and worked as a cashier for Walmart.

Patti is survived by a son: Jonathan E., at home; three daughters: Sarah E., wife of Randy Diem, of Ephrata; Rebekah E., of Coatesville; and Heather N., at home; four stepsons; and two stepdaughters.

In addition to her husband and parents, she was preceded in death by her husband and a son: Matthew A.; a daughter: Rachel L.; and stepson: Elam.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions in Melvin or Patti’s memory may be made to Ephrata Church of the Brethren, c/o Deacon Fund to help toward the funeral and household expenses of the family, 201 Crescent Ave, Ephrata, PA 17522..

Rachel L. Rissler, 24, of Stevens, passed away Monday, Dec. 12, 2011 at her residence.

She was born in Ephrata to the late Melvin and Patti (Heisey) Rissler.

Rachel attended South University and was in her junior year. She enjoyed community volunteering and she spent time in Africa.

Rachel was in the manager training program at Wendy’s, Ephrata.

Rachel is survived by a brother: Jonathan E., at home; three sisters: Sarah E., wife of Randy Diem, of Ephrata, Rebekah E., of Coatesville; Heather N., at home; four half- brothers; and 2 half-sisters.

She was preceded in death by her brother: Matthew A.; and a half-brother Elam.

Memorial contributions in Rachel’s memory may be made to the Ephrata Church of the Brethren, 201 Crescent Ave., Ephrata, PA 17522, for the Dala Kwe Center, Kenya.

A memorial service will be held for Melvin, Patti and Rachel Rissler on Dec. 16 at 10 a.m. at the Ephrata Church of the Brethren, 201 Crescent Ave., Ephrata, with Pastor Galen Hackman and Pastor Rob Eshelman officiating. Private interment will be at the convenience of the family.

Arrangements are being made by Stradling Funeral Homes Inc., Akron/Ephrata. Online condolences can be given at stradlingfuneralhome.com. More FIRE, page A6

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