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Woman greets men who rescued her from fire

April 17, 2006|by ERIN CUNNINGHAM

HAGERSTOWN

Joyce Gladhill sat outside her Salem Avenue home in Hagerstown recently waiting patiently to meet the men who saved her life one week before.

"Where are my heroes?" she asked.

Six Hagerstown firefighters rescued Gladhill, 56, from her burning home April 3. They found her unconscious on the floor in her basement and carried her to safety.

"Without them, I wouldn't be here today," Gladhill said.

That day, she was drying some clothes in the dryer in her basement. She had been upstairs reading a book when she heard the smoke alarm beeping.

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The clothing had caught on fire and smoke was filtering into the first floor of the home.

Gladhill said the beeping was faint, and she believed her husband, Tom, had simply forgotten to change the battery. Tom said he had changed the battery the day before.

"We always change the smoke alarm battery when we set the clocks back," he said.

Daylight Saving Time began April 2.

Gladhill went downstairs just after 1 p.m. and said she smelled smoke coming from her basement. She began searching for the fire.

"I saw just a little bit of smoke," she said.

Mike Weller, Hagerstown Fire Department Life Safety Educator, said her actions were a mistake.

"Never go looking for the fire," he said. "Call 911 and go outside."

Gladhill said she raised her thin shirt over her nose to avoid breathing in any smoke. Yet, she was quickly overcome by it.

"I never did reach the fire," she said. "There was not much smoke downstairs, but it was more than I thought, and I became disoriented."

All Gladhill said she remembers is walking downstairs.

"I don't even remember being brought up the steps," she said.

Four minutes after Gladhill went into the basement, her neighbor, Ian Beckett, said he smelled smoke in his home, which is adjacent to the Gladhills'. He got his wife, Crystal Lockner, who said she heard Gladhill coughing next door. The couple dialed 911 and waited outside.

"Basically, we just did what we were supposed to do," Beckett said.

Three minutes later, Hagerstown firefighters arrived at Beckett's home, but realized the source of the fire was next door.

Firefighters forced their way into the Gladhills' home and found the fire. Shortly after, firefighter Scott Baire found Gladhill lying on the floor.

By that time, the entire basement was filled with smoke, and firefighters did not see her lying on the ground.

Baire said he was concentrating on the fire when he heard Gladhill make a noise.

"You couldn't see anything down there," he said. "I reached out and (felt) her head."

Baire and firefighters Chris Gelwicks and Jim Kershner helped guide Gladhill out of the basement and put out the small fire.

They sat Gladhill on the ground outside and gave her oxygen while waiting for the ambulance that took her to Washington County Hospital.

Firefighters said Gladhill was probably in the basement for only a few minutes before they arrived.

Firefighter Adam Hopkins said he went to the second floor of the home to search for additional victims.

"When I came downstairs, they were already bringing her up," he said. "That's how fast they found her."

Tom Gladhill said he had lived in the house he and his wife now share since 1979. There was a fire there in 1992, he said.

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