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Firefighter hailed for effort to save a life

November 05, 2009|By JULIE E. GREENE

SMITHSBURG -- David Yankey knows he broke the rules, and he's uncomfortable with the attention.

But Smithsburg Community Volunteer Fire Co. Chief Chris Rohrer said Yankey deserves to be recognized for the effort he made to save a woman from a house fire in August.

Yankey, a volunteer firefighter for Smithsburg and a paid firefighter in suburban Washington, D.C., went directly to the house fire from his nearby home so all he had was his turnout gear -- no air tank, no hose and no backup.

The woman did not survive, despite Yankey pulling her out of the fire at the house on Brown Road just over the county line in Frederick County, Md.

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"If she had any chance to make it, he would have saved her life," said Rohrer, who thinks Yankey deserves recognition for his effort.

"I think (Yankey) made a judgment call, made a good decision," said Chief Michael Lewis with the Wolfsville Volunteer Fire Co.

Wolfsville is the main fire company for that area. The typical response time to that area would be five to 10 minutes, Lewis estimated, as volunteers first have to get to the fire hall to get their equipment and firetrucks, and then get to the scene.

"In the situation he was in, he had to make a decision. (That's) a chance he took," Lewis said.

The 12:26 a.m. house fire on Aug. 22 was up on a mountain, about a mile to 1 1/2 miles from Yankey's home. Instead of driving down the mountain to the Smithsburg fire hall, where he's a volunteer, and then riding back up the mountain, Yankey went straight to the fire.

Yankey, 40, said that when he arrived, there was no sign of smoke or fire.

A man standing outside told him there was a fire inside and he couldn't get his wife out of the 1 1/2-story Cape Cod-style bungalow, Yankey said.

After determining the man's wife was on the second floor, Yankey went in to look for her.

When he got to the bottom of the indoor stairway, the signs of the fire were clear. The staircase had been charred and there was zero visibility up the stairs due to the smoke.

"I couldn't see my hand in front of my face," Yankey said.

He crawled upstairs, returning downstairs when he needed a gulp of air. After the third trip upstairs, he made it downstairs with the woman, Yankey said. He took her outside, where the paramedics took over.

Yankey said he knows he's not supposed to enter a house on fire without his air tank, radio or backup.

"It was a judgment call," Yankey said.

He went with his first reaction, which was, "Go get her," he said.

"I didn't do it by the book and could have got in trouble. I can't sit here and say I wouldn't do it again or I would do it again," Yankey said.

But Yankey, who became a junior firefighter at age 16 and a regular firefighter at age 18, had never faced a situation like that before.

Yankey has been volunteering for the Smithsburg fire company for three years.

"I just like helping out," he said, especially during daytime hours when many volunteers are at their regular jobs and the fire hall is lightly staffed.

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