Boy's late-night TV viewing saves family Teen-ager smells smoke, alerts four others to flee rowhouse fire near Essex

December 31, 1997|By Dail Willis | Dail Willis,SUN STAFF

Thirteen-year-old Steven Bennington was enjoying a Christmas vacation benefit: staying up late to watch television. But just before 2 a.m. yesterday, he smelled smoke, so the Holabird Middle School eighth-grader tore himself away from the movie "Glimmer Man" and went downstairs to investigate.

His late-night inquisitiveness saved his family, including two dogs. Most of their two-story rowhouse in the 7400 block of Lansdale Road near Essex was ablaze.

"The whole living room was up in flames -- it was moving so fast," Steven said yesterday afternoon. "I got my parents up."

Once awakened, Steven's father moved quickly to get his family to safety, pushing his way through thick smoke on the second floor.

"I just started grabbing kids and putting them out the window," said David Sigley, 32, a crane operator. He and his wife, Lori Bennington, 31, a nurse, scooped up Heather Bennington, 7, and David Sigley Jr., 6.

They climbed to safety on a ladder brought by a neighbor whose name Sigley didn't know.

Steven was out by then and saving two more family members: Peewee, a terrier, and Wizard, a terrier-beagle mix, who were chained outside on a concrete apron. "I jumped off the awning to get the dogs unchained so they wouldn't burn up," he said.

All five members of the family were treated for smoke inhalation. Four were released yesterday morning from Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. Ms. Bennington remained in intensive care at Bayview, and a nursing supervisor said she was in serious condition last night.

Fire officials said the family was lucky to be alive because the two-alarm fire, which burned out the rowhouse, spread quickly.

"It was a miracle nobody was killed -- the house is gutted, burned down to the studs on the first and second floors," said Battalion Chief Mark Hubbard. "I think that Steven is a hero."

Hubbard said the fire began because of an electrical problem. But the damage was so extensive that fire investigators could not be more precise, he said.

Steven and his father praised the firefighters.

"The Fire Department was great -- they got here really fast," Sigley said.

A strong fire wall prevented fire damage to the rowhouse next door, Hubbard said, although the house had minor smoke damage. Damage to the Sigley rowhouse, where the family has lived for more than six years, was estimated at $70,000, and the contents were valued at $25,000, Hubbard said.

The family is staying with friends across the street, and Sigley plans to rebuild the rowhouse.

"Everything is gone," he said. "Everybody's alive -- that's the main thing. It could have been a lot worse."

Pub Date: 12/31/97

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