Gambrills man rescues his father-in-law from blaze

Cigarette thought to be cause of house fire

January 09, 2001|By Johnathon E. Briggs | Johnathon E. Briggs,SUN STAFF

A man who rescued his disabled father-in-law from a house fire in Gambrills on Sunday afternoon was described as a hero by county fire officials yesterday.

Thomas Dorr, 56, is flattered by the praise but said he's just glad that he and his father-in-law are alive.

"Somebody was looking after us," Dorr said yesterday from his home. "It was a bad situation. ... We were lucky."

Family members said the fire broke out about 4:30 p.m. at the home of Dorr's in-laws, Robert and Florence Miller, in the 800 block of Maple Road.

Investigators said Robert Miller, 86, who has Parkinson's disease, apparently fell asleep in a living room chair while smoking a cigarette.

When his chair caught fire, Miller - unable to get to his wheelchair - managed to push himself to the floor. Florence Miller, 82, heard the commotion from the kitchen and after seeing the fire called her daughter and son-in-law, who live two houses away, for help.

Thomas Dorr ran to the two-story brick house and entered through the kitchen door.

"The kitchen was filled with black, acid-like smoke," so thick that Dorr could only make out his mother-in-law's shadow, he recalled. "I told her to get out of the house."

Dorr dialed 911 as his wife, Anita, who had followed him, led her mother from the house.

With smoke hovering two feet above the floor and his father-in-law trapped inside, Dorr said he crawled about 20 feet down a hallway to the living room.

Dorr saw flames about 20 feet from where Miller was lying. He grabbed the man's left ankle and dragged him down the hallway and out the kitchen door.

Dorr said the heat was so intense that his hair and mustache were singed.

Asked what he was thinking during the rescue, Dorr said: "I wasn't thinking anything. This power came over me and said, `You have to go see, you have to help.'"

It took 25 firefighters about 20 minutes to get the blaze under control after crews arrived at 4:52 p.m. Damage to the home and its contents was estimated at $150,000. Paramedics treated the Millers at the scene, and there were no serious injuries.

Lt. Frank Fennell, a spokesman for the county Fire Department, described Dorr's actions as "heroic."

Dorr, who is retired from the National Security Agency and worked as a Herald Harbor volunteer firefighter in the early 1960s, said, "I knew it was dangerous, but I had to do it. ... The smoke was unbelievable. I never want to go through that again."

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