"Everybody says I'm a hero," said Fred Fairchild, "but I don't feel that way."
Despite the fact that a fire was roaring through a Westport bar and he climbed onto a porch to rescue an 18-year-old man and his two sisters, Fairchild's deeds apparently don't quite meet his definition of heroism.
The fire broke out late Wednesday at Colleen's Corner, a neighborhood bar in Westport, a gritty working-class enclave near the heart of this city. Flames engulfed much of the building. Bar patrons, including Fairchild, rushed outside.
He and others suddenly remembered four teen-agers and their grandmother were in an apartment upstairs. The grandmother, Ethel Gary, came puffing out on her own, along with Tom Vanskiver, 16, one of the teens, Fairchild recalled today.
But that left unaccounted for the other Vanskiver children: Al, 18, and twin 13-year-old girls, Edie and Colleen. "I thought they were all dead," said Fairchild.
As it turned out, "Al was in the tub taking a bath when the fire broke out," said Fairchild. Clad only in a bedsheet, Al woke the twins and herded them into a front room and out onto a porch roof, the flames roaring at their backs.
Fairchild, who is more than 6 feet tall, said he clambered onto the porch railing beneath them and reached up, grabbing the legs of the girls, and lifted them down to the waiting hands of other neighbors. Then he brought Al, still wrapped demurely in his bedsheet, to safety. The parents of the childen, Albert and Colleen Vanskiver, who also own the tavern, were away at the time, leaving the grandmother to mind the children.
Baltimore firefighters, who battled the blaze for 90 minutes in subfreezing temperatures, put the damage at $80,000. The cause was probably a malfunctioning gas furnace, according to fire officials.