By Margie Wuebker
Jeff White, a volunteer with the Montezuma Fire Department, does not consider himself a hero. Years of training kicked in as he raced against time to rescue a neighbor from a burning home at Behm's Landing.
White, a seven-year member of the Montezuma department, was outside around 5:30 p.m. Saturday when he heard popping noises and glass breaking.
He spotted flames in the kitchen area of William "Bill" Harrison's home at the corner of Clyde and Ada streets. The older man, who reportedly has health problems, appeared to be leaving the frame home. White ran to his own house across the street and told his wife Penny to call 911.
"Bill was nowhere to be seen when I came back outside," says the 30-year-old father of three young children. "I opened the front door (of the burning home) and crawled inside. I caught a glimpse of his boots and grabbed whatever I could to get him out."
The rescue took place in a Florida room adjacent to the burning kitchen without the benefit of protective turnout gear. Dense smoke filled much of the house, but it had not filtered down to the floor in the area where he found Harrison. "I had him around the waist and leg," White says. "The hold was not the most comfortable but it got the job done. I felt I was in a position to make the rescue. I've been trained to know when it's time to leave."
Eighteen Montezuma firefighters responded to the scene along with 15 St. Marys Township firefighters. The wail of sirens could be heard as the Whites helped Harrison into their home.
"This was a hot fire," White says. "The guys could feel the heat behind their air masks and face shields."
White ultimately drove back to the Montezuma department to pick up turnout gear before returning to the scene to help his comrades. They saved a neighboring home, which now bears melted siding.
"Thankfully there was no wind blowing toward a house no more than four feet behind Bill's," he says. "That would have gone up as well. Fortunately, it was not touched."
Harrison was taken by ambulance to Mercer County Community Hospital in Coldwater, where he was treated for smoke inhalation and released the following day.
The Whites plan to visit Harrison later today at Veterans' Hospital in Dayton, where he is currently residing. They will be taking the veteran's military memorabilia rescued from the destroyed home.
Among the items are dog tags taken from beneath a crucifix on an unburned bedroom wall as well as the man's Bronze Star and Purple Heart earned during service with the 101st Airborne Division.
Montezuma Fire Chief Matt Walker believes the fire started in the kitchen, but the cause remains under investigation. No dollar loss has been set.
The fire is the latest in a string of misfortune that has befallen Harrison. He reportedly left his house insurance lapse in the wake of medical problems resulting in surgery, and the motor in his car blew up about a month ago, according to White, an employee of Car Quest Auto Parts in Minster.
White shakes off all mention of the word "hero."
"I signed up to fight fires and save lives," he says. "It is something you hope you never have to do, but you put in many hours of training in the event it does."