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Posted April 11, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Hero's nature: Mt. Jackson man stops after he sees fire

Pastor Rodney Lebron recently was awarded
Pastor Rodney Lebron, of Mt. Jackson, recently was awarded a Red Cross hero award for alerting sleeping family members that their house, at 7288 Orkney Grade, was on fire on the night of Dec. 5. He stands in front of the burned-out house. Rich Cooley/Daily

Lebron looks over the debris
Lebron looks over the debris left of the house fire that left a family homeless last December. Lebron alerted family members that their home was on fire as he was on his way home from his second job that Friday night. Rich Cooley/Daily

Lebron points
Lebron points to some of the burned-out areas of the destroyed house. Rich Cooley/Daily

Pastor Rodney LeBron of Mt. Jackson
Pastor Rodney LeBron of Mt. Jackson was awarded a Red Cross Hero award. Rich Cooley/Daily

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By Sally Voth -- svoth@nvdaily.com

MT. JACKSON -- As a pastor, Rodney Lebron is in the business of trying to save souls.

But his quick thinking and bravery during a December house fire also make him a lifesaver, a feat acknowledged by the Shenandoah County chapter of the American Red Cross, which awarded him the Adult Good Samaritan Hero award.

Sitting in the window-lit living room of his home on a wooded lane outside Basye, Lebron, who is pastor at Woodland Mennonite Church in Basye, recounted the events of Dec. 5.

He was heading home from his second-shift job as nighttime maintenance supervisor at Bowman Apple Products, driving along Orkney Grade at about 9:45 p.m.

In the distance, he saw flames in what he thought was a field.

"At first, I thought it was just a bonfire," Lebron said. "As I drove closer, I realized that it was a house on fire."

Another couple pulled up to the old farmhouse at 7288 Orkney Grade at the same time he did, and began dialing 911. Flames were on the front porch and a 20-gallon propane tank was burning.

"I knocked on the door first and then I just pushed the door in," Lebron said. "I guess you might say I forced my way into the house."

He started yelling for anyone home to get out.

"It was all black in front of me," Lebron said.

He'd taken about a dozen steps when he saw someone.

"A guy came down the steps about half-asleep and asked me what I was doing in his house, and I said, 'Your house is on fire.'"

The young man ran outside to see if this was true, and Lebron followed, asking if anyone else was inside.

"At that point, he was really in shock," he said. "We went back in and went upstairs and woke the other two persons up in the house."

The house had smoke detectors on the second floor, but they had not been activated. The fire was on the opposite side of the house from where everyone was sleeping, Lebron, 41, said.

"I think once they heard that their house was on fire, they woke up real quick, and we rushed them out [of] the house," he said. "The only one who had decent clothes on was the son. The rest of them were in their jammies, already asleep. They went out just as they were."

Firefighters arrived about 10 minutes later, Lebron said. He was the last to leave, having been blocked in by firetrucks. He would have stuck around anyway.

"When I got them out, I wanted to make sure I stayed with them to try to calm them down, try to make sure that no one ran back into the house," Lebron said.

The pastor received the Red Cross award at a March 31 reception. His actions were no shock to his wife, Mary Ann.

"Well, I always knew he was a hero," she said. "I wouldn't have expected anything different from Rodney because that's what he does. I'm really proud of him."

Remembering the night of the fire brought Crystal Grow to tears. She was at work that evening while her children, William Massie, 21, and Madison, 17, and Madison's friend, Hodges Hart, now 19, were home.

"By the time I got there, the house was already fully engulfed," Grow said.

Because of all the rescue vehicles, she had to park about a quarter-mile from her house. She approached the nearest firefighter.

"I told him, 'This is my house,'" Grow said. "'Where's my children?'"

When she caught up with Madison, she was told about Lebron's actions.

"I cannot thank him enough," Grow said.

Her son smelled something unusual, but thought it was coming from his space heater. The other two teens dozed off watching TV.

"If [Lebron] had not gone in when he did, I don't know that my children would've gotten out," Grow said.

Lebron admitted to some trepidation about entering the house.

"Oh yeah, I was scared," he said. "I knocked on the door. I said, 'Well, no one's home,' so I went to leave, and then this thought came to me -- how would I feel if tomorrow when all is said and done, they find persons inside dead? How could I live with that?

"Now, when I drive home at nights, I kind of look both ways along the side of the road to see, make sure there's no fires on the way home. Plus, it's given me a greater appreciation for the things that we tend to take for granted, because here they lost everything."

Grow and her children lost everything, including their three pets. But they were able to get into a new rental home within two days, she said, and donations of clothes and dishes poured in.

"The community really, really came to our rescue," Grow said. "It was overwhelming."

Also receiving Red Cross awards:

• The late Susie Howard -- Community Impact.

• John Hollar -- Youth Good Samaritan.

• Sally Hupp -- Nurse Hero.

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