Ewan Plant immediately dialed 911 Wednesday evening when he spotted thick black smoke pouring from the second floor of his neighbor’s stone house. But as he got closer, a second neighbor told Plant someone was still inside.
Gregory Langley was turning a corner at just about the same time, and within moments, the two men took turns kicking the front door of the house in the 2800 block of Franklin Street NE.
Plant had never been in the home, but he said both rescuers knew the resident used a cane, has medical and mobility issues, and probably needed help to get out.
“I was worried about the amount of smoke,” Plant said in an telephone interview after he helped rescue the man. “I knew if he was upstairs, we wouldn’t have been able to get him. It was thick and pungent.”
The man who lived in the home, whom officials did not identify, was taken to hospital in a non-life-threatening condition. Langley could not be immediately reached.
Fire investigators determined an overloaded electrical circuit ignited the fire that burned through the home’s second floor and into the attic at about 5:30 p.m., said Vito Maggiolo, a D.C. fire department spokesman.
Before firefighters arrived, Plant and Langley kicked in the front door and found their neighbor nearby, partially dressed, talking on the phone and disoriented. Plant said the man had lived in the house for his entire life and didn’t want to leave.
“He didn’t really want to leave until the fire brigade arrived, so we sort of had to coax him out. He was quite out of it,” said Plant, who has lived in the neighborhood for 13 years.
By this time, the black smoke began to filter down to the first floor, so Plant and Langley grabbed either side of the man and helped him outside to the porch, as firefighters arrived.
“I was relieved he was by the front door,” Plant said.
Investigators said an extension cord was used instead of wiring and that a circuit fuse was disabled and circumvented. “This combination set the stage for the fire,” Maggiolo said. “The fuse didn’t blow like it should. The extension cord overloaded and started the fire.”
Two firefighters were injured. One was more seriously hurt from “a substantial fall,” officials said, but was conscious and alert when he was taken to a hospital. The second firefighter had minor injuries, Maggiolo said.
Fire officials praised Plant and Langley for their quick action at the burning building, but Maggiolo also said the department “would caution people to let the professionals do it, if at all possible. If someone is not in an immediate threat, you can help the fire to spread by opening doors or breaking windows. It is in fact dangerous and potentially putting yourself into harm’s way.”