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Man tells of close call in industrial park building fire

Though he lost all the equipment for his fledgling industrial labeling business, Edge Graphics, and his body is still feeling the aftereffects of a terrifying leap to safety, Detroit Lakes resident Chris Disse knows he is very, very fortunate to still be breathing.

The graphic designer was hard at work on a project for a local business on the evening of Oct. 5, when he decided to take a short nap before finishing off the project for delivery in the morning.

"I was working late, trying to pump out a really big job I needed to drop off Friday morning," he recalls. "At about 10 p.m., I felt really tired, so I thought I'd go into office and take a little nap."

That "short nap" nearly became permanent, as Disse awoke to find the building around him enveloped in flames.

"The next thing I knew, I woke up and everything was hot and smoky -- all I knew was I couldn't breathe, and I was in trouble."

Unable to see anything in the smoke-filled room, struggling to find pockets of air to relieve his oxygen-deprived lungs, Disse slowly inched across the floor to where he believed he would find a window.

"I put my coat on over my head to breathe, and reached for the window. I could feel myself starting to black out ... I was breathing smoke."

He would crouch down low and take a breath, then go back up and search with his fingers along the wall, to find the window ledge. After about his third try, Disse knew he wouldn't get another crack at it. Fortunately, he found what he was looking for, and smashed his way through the second story window.

Knowing that a blind leap could cause him a broken leg or worse, Disse carefully lowered himself out onto the window ledge and hung there, suspended in air, for a few moments before allowing himself to drop to the ground below.

Though he wound up with a deep cut in the main artery on his right arm, and many more cuts and bruises across his chest and arms, Disse was able to make his way back to his vehicle, parked in back of the building, where he hoped to call 911. Unfortunately, he quickly realized he'd left his cell phone in the building.

"I looked out in front (of the building) and saw headlights, so I ran toward them and there was a guy from BTD who was already on the phone," Disse said. "He told me to sit down and not move."

Later, Disse would discover that the artery on his right arm was ripped and he had another cut from his elbow to his armpit, as well as some chest lacerations that he said he didn't notice until he got to the hospital -- the after effects of crawling through a freshly broken window and suspending himself from the frame before leaping to safety.

Disse would end up being hospitalized at St. Mary's Regional Health Center for "about a day and a half" before he was released.

"I'm having kind of a hard time getting around right now," he said Friday. "My body is so sore from the fall -- my knees, my hips, my right shoulder blade. But do I feel lucky? Absolutely."

Disse said his main thoughts during his escape centered around his 5-year-old son, Jaiden Matthew. Now, however, he's begun to think about getting his business back up and running again.

"I've got a couple of different offers I'm considering about where I'm going to put my business," he said. "I'm working with the insurance company right now, trying to write down everything I had (in inventory)."

To assist him in rebuilding, Craig Matthews, property manager for the facility at 910 Eighth Street Southeast -- now considered a total loss -- is planning a benefit dinner for Disse on Nov. 11 at the Sand Bar in Detroit Lakes.

"We wanted to put something together for him," said Matthews.

As for the other businesses housed in the building, which included the warehouse for the Boys & Girls Club Thrift Store and some storage space for Sears; The Mattress Guys; and Business Technologies International, a business forms distributor and business supplier, many are waiting until the investigation into the cause of the fire is completed to determine the extent of their losses.

Building owner Jerry Blahut, who is also the operator of BTI, said he hopes to rebuild. As for the estimated damage, he said he would have a better idea what that is once he knows how much of it was covered by insurance, and how much it will cost to rebuild.

"Ask me in another three or four weeks," he said. "We kind of have to start from scratch -- it's a disaster, is what it is."

Detroit Lakes Fire Chief Jeff Swanson said he expects the investigation to be wrapped up sometime this coming week. The building, however, is a total loss, he added.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454