Tom O’Neill and Andrew Rolf ran into the burning Maywood Road house just before 5 a.m. on June 8 to rescue homeowner Harold Dey, who was trapped.
“These two individuals risked their lives to save a neighbour,” said Kitchener Fire Chief Tim Beckett.
O’Neill discovered the fire thanks to his dog, Chester, a soft-coated wheaten terrier, that woke him and his wife Rhonda at about 4 a.m. Faintly smelling smoke from their home a few doors down from Dey’s house, O’Neill went outside looking for the source.
O’Neill then saw the flames and went running to the house.
Hearing Dey yelling for help, he tried to go in but the smoke was too thick.
O’Neill employed the help of Dey’s immediate neighbour, Rolf, who called the fire department.
Rolf then went running into the house and pulled Dey, a quadriplegic, out of his bed and onto the ground where there was still some air.
Rolf ran back out of the house to catch his breath and re-entered with O’Neill. The two men were able to pull Dey out of the house uninjured.
“If it wasn’t for Andrew, I wouldn’t have been able to save him,” O’Neill said.
And they did so just in the nick of time, according to Beckett. “Time was on their side at that moment, but it was quickly diminishing.”
The fire grew so hot it pushed back crews that arrived only moments after the three men reached the front lawn. One firefighter sustained burns to his hand after the fire destroyed his protective gear.
“Everything that he was wearing has to be replaced, that’s how quickly the fire grew from the moment they got the occupant out to the time when our guys tried to go in — and that was only minutes,” Beckett said.
Weeks later, an odour of smoke remains outside the house, O’Neill said. “Every time I pass it I say, ‘I can’t believe I went in there.'”
Having spoken to Dey just a week ago, O’Neill said he’s glad the man is in good health and settling into a new home.
While O’Neill and Rolf put their lives on the line, they would never second-guess saving a friend.
“I wouldn’t want to do that again, but I probably would,” O’Neill said. “If you’re in the right place at the right time, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”
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