Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Ohio home health worker saves woman with MS from fire

From the Akron Beacon Journal in Ohio:

Denisha Anderson has always believed in showing up early for work.

Anderson's diligence helped save a life Dec. 28.

After the health-care aide arrived five minutes early to the West Akron apartment where her client lives, she was just in time to avert tragedy.

Authorities say Anderson, 35, rushed to pull invalid patient Marchell Pritchett, who is in her 50s and has multiple sclerosis, from her burning bed to safety.

''This was the scariest thing that's ever happened to me,'' Anderson said. ''It's a couple hours after, and I'm still shaking.

''And I'm still praying. Praying for her [Pritchett's] health, her life and my life. What happened in that burning house was something that I never want to see again in my life. I'm just thankful we both got out alive.''

Anderson isn't sure where she summoned the strength to pull the woman from the burning room.

''I had to drag her to save her because she couldn't move out of her bed,'' she said. ''I don't know where it came from, but it was courage that I never knew I had.''

Anderson, a mother of two teenagers, took a bus from her residence off South Hawkins Avenue and arrived at the three-story home at 386 Wildwood Ave. about 9:45 a.m.

Anderson takes care of Pritchett every day except Sunday. She has been caring for her for six months.

''I got into the house and went back to her bedroom and gave her her medicine,'' she said. ''Then the lights went out.''

Anderson went downstairs and hit the switch on the fuse box. The lights went back on and Anderson returned to care for Pritchett.

Anderson and Pritchett then saw sparks fly out of an extension cord that was plugged into the wall close to the side of Pritchett's bed. The cord was hooked to a nearby lamp.

''It all happened so fast, we couldn't even think,'' said Anderson, who graduated from Buchtel High School in 1993. ''The spark flew out and hit the mattress. That caught the entire bed on fire.''

Anderson said she dragged Pritchett through the living area of the first-floor apartment and out the front door.

''I had pushed the fire button on her [Pritchett's] emergency phone, but it didn't work,'' Anderson said. ''I was screaming for somebody to call 911 while I drug her out of the house.''

Anderson said she was met on the front porch by a ''couple of men who lived upstairs.''

''They carried Marchell across the street to a neighbor's house,'' she said

Akron Fire Capt. James Case identified one of the men as Rodondo Jackson, who lives on the third floor of the house.

Anderson believes Pritchett had a second-degree burn on the back of one of her legs. She was taken to Akron Children's Hospital's burn unit for treatment.

Anderson suffered a small burn on a finger and inhaled some smoke. She declined to be taken to the hospital.

Case, who was working the final shift of his 33-year career, said all of the residents of the house managed to escape safely.

''We don't know how many people were in there,'' Case said, ''but everybody got out of the house OK.''

Case confirmed that the fire started in the rear bedroom on the first floor occupied by Pritchett.

Investigator Matt Davello ruled the cause of the fire as unintentional electrical failure.

''The problem with the older homes like this is that the fire spreads quickly,'' Case said. ''Once the fire gets into the walls, it climbs quickly up to the second and third floors because of the bloom construction.''

Although a ladder rescue unit and an engine truck arrived shortly after the Akron Fire Department received the first of multiple 911 calls, there wasn't much the firefighters could do to save the structure, Case said.

Case said it took about an hour to get the fire under control. Firefighters spent another couple of hours making certain it didn't spread.

Case said the house was a total loss. He estimated its value at $100,000.

Right before the blaze started, the home aide and her patient were counting their blessings.

''The really crazy thing is that we had just a couple minutes before the fire congratulated each other on making it to 2010,'' said Anderson, who works for Interim Home Health Care. ''We even gave each other high-fives for making it to another year.

''I guess I learned again that you should never count your chickens before they hatch. We almost didn't make it to 2010. That's how scary this whole thing was.''