Deliveryman rescues two trapped in house fire

December 31, 1992|By Knight-Ridder Newspapers

PHILADELPHIA -- The smoke was pouring out of th rowhouse when Jonathan Buie drove by in his Federal Express (( delivery truck, two more stops left on his morning rounds.

Mr. Buie stopped the truck, ran over to the burning house, crawled into the smoke-filled living room while straining to hear a woman's cries, then headed for the porch roof.

He didn't take time to think about his two young sons, or his asthma, or the two packages still in the truck.

For that moment, said Mr. Buie, there was only the notion that inside that house -- a house with no working smoke detectors and a refrigerator blocking one exit -- there were people who needed help.

So, without a second thought yesterday, Mr. Buie, 28, scrambled onto the porch roof, smashing in windows with his truck fire extinguisher and helping two people out a second-floor window.

A third woman, Cindy Long, 22 -- the one whose cries he heard when he briefly crawled into the living room -- died in the fire.

"I said, forget these packages, there's people in there," Mr. Buie, of Philadelphia, said as he sat in his boss' office a few hours after the rescue, receiving pats on the back and handshakes from colleagues.

"It's just that somebody needed help, and I was there to help them," he said. "When they asked me later how I got onto the roof, I couldn't even explain how. It was so difficult, but at the time it was a piece of cake. I went right up."

He got onto the roof by climbing up an iron porch railing two doors down and somehow swinging his leg onto the top of the porch. When he reached the second-floor window, he found Delma Schmeltzer, 42, and Clement Zawojski, 27, huddled by the window in their night clothes.

"She just kept saying, 'My kids, my kids, my kids, get my kids,' " Mr. Buie recalled Ms. Schmeltzer crying. "She was in a panic state. She was crying the whole time, trying to catch her breath."

The children, two foster sons, 10 and 9, and another 12-year-old boy, had left the house moments before the fire was discovered. But her daughter, Ms. Long, died.

Last night, Homicide Lt. Joseph Witte said the fire was apparently the result of the boys playing with matches, which set fire to some laundry on the floor of the basement.

Firefighters arrived just as Mr. Buie had helped the two people over to a neighbor's house.

Firefighters found Ms. Long in bed in a second-floor middle bedroom. She was pronounced dead at the scene, said Lt. Jamal Benin.

Mr. Buie's actions were not the only heroics. In another twist of fate, an 82-year-old woman collapsed of an apparent heart attack as she walked across the street from the fire.

For several minutes, the woman had no vital signs. But firefighters revived her with three jolts from a portable electric shock machine.

"Those firefighters worked so hard on that poor soul," said John Capella, 70, a witness. "The firemen worked furiously. They brought her back to life. They lost one life, and they brought another back."

The woman, Henrietta McDowell, was listed in critical condition last night at Osteopathic Medical Center's Parkview campus.

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