Smoke was streaming from the house, flames were shooting from the attic and Justin Davidson was inside, wearing a T-shirt and shorts and using a garden shovel to knock down the ceiling of his parents' Pennsylvania home.
Davidson, an Anne Arundel County firefighter, was visiting his parents' Wallingford, Pa., house Tuesday afternoon when a fire started in the attic. He got his mother and father and their two dogs to safety and told them to call for help. Then he used a nearby extinguisher and water from the kitchen sink to battle the blaze.
When local police showed up to answer the 911 call — minutes before the volunteer fire company responded — they wanted everyone out, including Davidson, 28, who lives in Baltimore. Unmoved by his claims of being a firefighter, they threatened to arrest him, according to fire officials.
But Davidson, in between shouting with the police, wouldn't quit trying to save his parents' modest home.
"The police were threatening to drag me out," said Davidson, a nine-year veteran assigned to Truck Company 33 in Glen Burnie, who was not injured. "They said, ‘You're going to jail.' At that point, it just didn't matter; I had to save my parents' house. This is all they have."
Joe Lombardo Jr., chief of the Garden City Fire Company in Pennsylvania, responded to the fire and helped put out not only the one-alarm blaze but the dispute between Davidson and the officers. Lombardo, who has been chief of the volunteer company for 32 years, remembered Davidson as a cadet junior firefighter when he was in high school.
"The police were upset because they didn't know him, but once I had a conversation with them, it was all good," said Lombardo. "I did yell at him for being in shorts. But he's well-trained. It was pretty much contained when we got there. He saved it from being a lot worse than it could have been."
Police Chief Thomas Flannery of Nether Providence Township said the incident report makes no note of threats of arrest, but Flannery said he was glad that "cooler heads prevailed," especially since Davidson is a trained professional.
"I think we showed good judgment and restraint with that," Flannery said. "We shouldn't be arresting people who were just trying to put a fire out."
Chief Michael Cox, a spokesman for the Anne Arundel Fire Department, said he could not comment without knowing all the facts, but that under national firefighting standards, "we recommend that … all occupants evacuate the building and remain outside until the arrival of the fire department, and only trained and equipped firefighters should re-enter."
Davidson had finished a 24-hour shift at the Glen Burnie firehouse Sunday when he drove up to his hometown, south of Philadelphia, for a visit.
On Tuesday afternoon, he was napping in his old bedroom when his mother, Pamela Davidson, burst in his room, screaming, "The house is on fire!"
His mother and father, John Davidson, rounded up the family dogs — two golden retrievers named Rusty and Cody. Pamela Davidson called 911 at 3:27 p.m., according to police.
The firefighter in the family went to work. He said the police were shouting at him to get out, even threatening to "drag you out and arrest you." He said that although he understood the officer was doing his job, he wasn't budging.
"I teach classes on this," Davidson said. "I know what to do: If your house is on fire, get out. But my natural instincts kicked in. I was born to do this."
The fire caused about $20,000 in damage, although the house is still habitable. The fire chief said an exact cause is still under investigation.
"We live in a small town, it's an all-volunteer fire department and God bless them for the volunteer work that they do," said Pamela Davidson. "But if we had waited for them, our house would have been gone. So we're just thankful Justin was home. We're so proud of him."