Sheryl C. Lewis on Nov. 4, 2015 was losing her fight to survive when a neighbor crawled though a room on fire to save her life.
That neighbor, Stephens City resident Merrill O. Naylor, is one of 18 recipients of the Carnegie Medal for outstanding heroism for his actions that evening, according to a statement from the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission.
Naylor found out last week about the medal.
“I was speechless. I relived the moment again,” Naylor said.
The moment began when Lewis awoke in her bedroom to the smell of smoke. She went into the living room to see it was on fire and spreading quickly. She suffered severe burns as she struggled in the thick smoke to head to the kitchen door and to safety. She never made it, collapsing to the floor.
Naylor, a security specialist, lived across the street on Macedonia Church Road in Frederick County.
His 14-year-old son ran downstairs and told his parents that he thought the house across the street was on fire, Naylor said.
Naylor, wearing a T-shirt, jeans and only bedroom slippers on his feet ran out the door, yelling at his wife to call 911.
“The fire had already blew out their window. I knew it was bad,” Naylor said.
Lewis’ husband was outside the kitchen door, just making it outside. Naylor told his son to keep him from entering the house.
Naylor said he could hear Lewis’ cries for help.
“I heard Cheryl…. I am burning. I am burning.. Help me,” Naylor said.
Thick smoke rolled out the door. Naylor could feel the heat but he dropped to his knees and entered the kitchen. Fire burned on the ceiling, he said.
“It was instinct, adrenaline. I could not let my neighbor die unless I tried some type of rescue,” Naylor said. “I kept asking her, ‘Sheryl where are you?’ She kept saying ‘Help me. I am burning.’”
Naylor crawled on the floor about 15 feet toward the living room before he found her.
“I knew she was in trouble,” Naylor said.
Naylor could not lift Lewis.
“I told her to hug me like a bear, that we were going to get the hell out of there,” Naylor said.
He then dragged both of them to the kitchen door and outside to safety.
“I saw her face, her chest, her hair burnt. Honestly, I thought she was going to die,” Naylor said. “I cried that night. I thought she took too much smoke. I wished I had been faster.”
Lewis was flown to a hospital where she was treated for her burns and for smoke inhalation. She would undergo lengthy treatment for her burns, according to the Carnegie statement.
“When I heard through the neighborhood that she was going to make it it was a ton of bricks off me,” Naylor said.
Naylor sustained minor burns to his face, neck and back as well as smoke inhalation, he said.
Despite receiving an award for heroism Naylor said he does not think of himself as a hero.
“The hero is Sheryl who endured the pain and suffering that she overcame,” Naylor said.
The Carnegie Medal for outstanding heroism has come to the area before.
Bruce Edward Smoot, 43, saved a husband and wife from a fire that destroyed much of their Front Royal duplex on Super Bowl night in February 2012. He was awarded the medal in 2014.
The Carnegie Hero Fund Commission was founded and endowed by the 19th century steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, who was inspired by stories of heroism during a coal mine disaster that killed 181 people, including a miner and an engineer, who died trying to rescue others.
There have been 57 Carnegie Hero awards made to date in 2017 and a total of 9,971 since the Pittsburgh-based Fund’s inception in 1904.
Attempts to reach Sheryl Lewis for this story were unsuccessful.