RUSH COUNTY, Ind. (WISH) — The call went out a little before 10 p.m. Feb. 13: A house in rural Rush County was burning, and someone was trapped inside.
With no time to wait for volunteer firefighters and no fire training, a group of sheriff’s deputies and a good Samaritan rushed to save a 92-year-old woman.
“I’ve got to get there, that’s the only thing that crossed my mind,” said Sgt. Douglas Keith with the Rush County Sheriff’s Office. Keith was two miles away from the fire, which happened at 3852 N. County Road 700 East conducting a traffic stop and could see the flames. Then he heard the call over the radio.
When he got to the home, he said he saw a man staggering out. The man said his mother, 92-year-old Martha Tincher, was still inside. As Keith started preparing to go inside, a man on his way to work saw the flames and stopped to see if he could help. Wes Duvall said he lives about three miles away from the home.
“I asked [Sgt. Keith] what he needed help doing,” Duvall said.
Keith told Duvall he needed to break a window to get inside, so Duvall did.
Keith said he did not know where the woman was and he did not know the layout of the home. Smoke was everywhere and he could only see at the floor level.
“I can’t see my hand in front of my face. I’m feeling through bedsheets, bed covers, pushing dressers out of the way. … Being in there roughly two to three minutes alone, the smoke was getting hotter and hotter,” Keith said.
Meantime, several deputies were on the way to the scene.
“I didn’t know if I had flames on me or if it was the smoke; I couldn’t breathe,” Keith said, adding that he went to the window four times, gasping for air.
After several minutes, help arrived.
“You take a big gulp in. Your eyes are watering. You can’t see,” said Deputy Chris Morgan, describing the feeling of going into the fire.
Morgan joined the department just two months ago and was joined by other deputies who came to assist.
“While Deputy Morgan was inside, I was right behind with him holding onto him as a lifeline,” said Deputy Shawn Smallwood, describing the buddy system they tried to put into place.
Smallwood said it was hard to keep track of one another. Another challenge was trying to go through a window that is 50 inches off the ground. He said it took more effort to get through and to get out.
“You couldn’t see the tip of your nose,” added Deputy Matt Hedrick, describing the conditions inside.
Deputy Daniel Meyer said using his flashlight, he managed to find the 92-year-old’s arm. He called for help, and along with a couple deputies, they got her out of the home.
To help the woman, who was unconscious and having trouble breathing, the deputies used a resuscitator they had been trained on mere hours earlier.
The woman was taken by medical helicopter to an Indianapolis hospital. According to the sheriff’s office, she is still in the hospital but is expected to recover.
All the deputies got out of the home uninjured, too.
“I can’t even put into words how proud I am of them,” said Sheriff Allan Rice.
No one was trained to go into that burning home, but they said it was a duty to serve the community that had them not even think twice about going inside.
The cause of the fire remained under investigation on Thursday.