Home fire brings out Hunter heroes
January 13, 2012
HUNTER ARMY AIRFIELD, Ga. - Sergeant Arron Hill, 416th Transportation Company, was sitting in his bedroom at 63 Gannam Ave. on Hunter Army Airfield when he heard sirens, Jan. 3. When he ran to the window to see what was happening, he watched a Hunter Military Police Officer break down the front door of his neighbor, and saw thick, black smoke billow out.
Specialist Jeremy Wagner, Directorate of Emergency Services, got the call at the MP station that smoke was coming out of the vent at 61 Gannam Ave. He got to the house and saw black smoke through the windows.
"The windows were kind of breathing with black smoke, it looked like a haunted house," Spc. Wagner said. "It was about (35 degrees) out, but I felt heat from the doorknob so I knew there was a fire inside the home."
After no response to ringing and knocking, he heard a scratching at the door; the 6'6" dog lover knocked the door down.
When he entered the home, he was pulled into the burning home by backdraft and saw the kitchen was engulfed in flames.
"When I kicked in the door the dog ran away from me, so it clicked 'there's probably someone in the house,'" Spc. Wagner said.
He got the dog, a shih tzu named Pudding, and ran out of the house. The neighbor, Sgt. Hill, confirmed that his neighbor, a spouse, was inside. The former University of Kentucky football player reentered the home; he saw flames coming from the kitchen, searched the first floor and was forced out by the smoke.
Succumbing to smoke inhalation, Spc. Wagner could not reenter the house -- but Spc. Hill could. He got a wet rag to cover his nose and mouth and entered the house, yelling for his neighbor. He finally heard her, caught her stumbling in the dark smoke at the top of the stairs, and helped her out.
Private First Class Jonathan Cardona, Company E, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Aviation Regiment, was across the street at the playground, sitting in the car with his son when he smelled smoke. He saw a Military Police vehicle pull up to the house, and Spc. Wagner break down the door. Pfc. Cardona waited for his wife to arrive to get their son, and then he too ran into the burning home.
"I went in twice; the first time I made it to the kitchen and there were flames everywhere," he said. "I came out, Sgt. Hill went upstairs and I put the flashlight (application) on my phone on and went back inside and headed up the stairs."
Private First Class Cardona said he couldn't see anything -- he pointed the flashlight at the ground and started up the stairs.
"I couldn't bear to know someone was inside," he said. "I would like someone to do that for me -- I didn't think about it, I just went in to help out, to do whatever I could."
Halfway up the flight of stairs, he met up with Sgt. Hill coming down with the spouse, who was now unconscious, and the two carried her out of the burning house.
As they exited the house, the Hunter Fire Department arrived and it took the four engines and 14 fire fighters just five minutes to put out the initial flame, which was determined to have been caused by unattended cooking.
The resident was taken to Memorial University Medical Center in Savannah and spent two days there being treated for smoke inhalation. Specialist Wagner was also transported to Memorial, where he spent five hours. A few hours after the fire, Pfc. Cardona was feeling smoke inhalation symptoms -- splitting headache, chest pain and spitting black -- so he, too, went to Memorial, where he was treated for a few hours and released.
Forty-four percent of all residential fires are cause by unattended cooking. Not coincidentally, residential building fires occur most frequently in the early evening hours, peaking during the dinner hours from 5 - 8 p.m., when most people cook dinner. According to Hunter Fire Station Chief Tom Wiley, it is imperative to stay close to what you are cooking.
"Whether you are using a stove top, the oven or even the microwave, it's important to remember to stay in the kitchen," he said. "The number-one cause of fires in military housing is unattended cooking, which is consistent with national statistics."
Should a cooking fire start in your home, Wiley said you need to take what you are cooking away from the heat and cover it up.
"If that doesn't solve the problem, dial 9-1-1 and get out of the house as quickly as you can," he said. "Once you are out, you need to stay out."
All homes on Hunter Army Airfield and Fort Stewart are equipped with a fire stop above each oven range and a smoke detector. But in order for smoke detectors to work, we need to check them occasionally to ensure they are functioning correctly.
"You want to check your smoke detector once a month for proper operation," Wiley said. "There is a test button on it and you simply press that. Also, you need to change the batteries at least twice a year -- we suggest doing it when you change your clocks."