Man carries disabled resident part way down steps to safety in Sunday night blaze
By Joe Beck -- firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- Bruce Smoot's Super Bowl party turned into a life-saving rescue drama after he left the game behind to carry two neighbors to safety from their flaming duplex Sunday night.
The victims, Jeffrey and Katherine Laudermilk of 24 E. Prospect St., survived thanks to Smoot and Officer L.J. Waller of the Front Royal police, both of whom waded through thick black smoke to reach the victims. Jeffrey Laudermilk is disabled and unable to walk without assistance, Waller and Smoot said.
"I didn't really think about it. I just reacted," Smoot said Monday. "I guess I got it in me and didn't know it."
Jeffrey Laudermilk was treated for smoke inhalation at the scene by members of the Warren County Fire and Rescue Services and taken to Warren Memorial Hospital where he was released later, Fire Chief Richard E. Mabie says in a news release. Katherine Laudermilk, his wife, was uninjured, Mabie said.
The fire destroyed much of the duplex, leaving an estimated $35,000 in damage and forcing the Laudermilks to move in with a family member in Front Royal, Mabie said in an interview. They could not be reached for comment.
Firefighters arrived at the scene at 7:48 p.m. and brought the fire under control by 8:11 p.m., Mabie said. He said a fire investigator concluded that the fire started in a bed as a result of discarded smoking materials.
Smoot and family members were watching the Super Bowl in their home at 17 E. Prospect St. across from the Laudermilks when Brooke Harrison, his girlfriend's daughter, noticed something wrong across the street.
"I actually saw the flames and said to them 'Look,'" Harrison said.
Smoot, Harrison and the others gathered by the kitchen window and saw smoke and flames pouring out of a second floor window of the duplex.
Smoot, 43, said he raced into the Laudermilks' building in his bare feet and found Jeffrey Laudermilk lying motionless at the top of the stairs, his legs on the landing and his upper body on the top two steps.
Smoot said he picked up Laudermilk and carried him part way down the steps before handing him off to Waller, who finished carrying him down the steps and outside to safety.
In the meantime, Smoot returned to the second floor of the building where smoke had made it almost impossible to see. He found his way to the entrance of the bedroom where the fire started and continued to rage. Smoot said he reached around the corner and, after two unsuccessful attempts, gripped Katherine Laudermilk's hand and pulled her from the inferno.
He hoisted her onto his shoulder and carried her down the stairs, he said. Smoke had nearly overwhelmed them by then, Smoot said, adding that the fire singed his whiskers and the side of Katherine Laudermilk's face.
"She was done," Smoot said. "If it had been any longer in there, there wasn't much I could have done. I was about done myself."
Waller praised Smoot for acting quickly and courageously when he saw the blaze.
"He's just a regular citizen across the street," Waller said. "When he saw that [fire], he didn't hesitate. He went right in. I think that says a lot for him."