Irondequoit, N.Y.— It was around 1:30 Tuesday afternoon and Irondequoit resident Keith Collins was sleeping after getting home from work earlier in the morning.
Collins says he heard what sounded like a snow plow rolling though his street followed by loud pops. Moments later, his wife came into the room saying the house across the street, 152 Tamarack Road, was engulfed in flames.
“The breezeway was involved,” Collins recalled. “We went over and we tried to get him out because we know he can't get out of the house.”
Collins says the man who lives at the home has a severe form of Huntington’s disease which can limit his mobility. Collins’ wife called 911 while Collins and his other neighbor, Sean Rist, ran over to the burning home knowing that the man who lived there was most likely trapped.
“We just knew that he had no hope of getting out on his own,” Rist said. “The flames were significant. It was coming through the peak of the roof and we had to get him out.”
Rist and Collins tried breaking windows to ventilate the home. Then they tried to open the front door, but it was locked.
“We both went back to our houses to find a way to break into the door,” Rist said. “I ended up getting a sledge hammer and Keith ended up getting a pry bar and knocked the door in.”
At that moment, Rochester firefighters who were training nearby arrived.
“We could see [the victim] just inside the door and the smoke was so heavy,” Collins recalled. “We had trained [firefighters] behind us so we let them go in and grab him.”
According to Point Pleasant Fire Chief Steve Derleth, the two men helped firefighters get the victim across the street to safety. Chief Derleth says the man was so disoriented and confused, at one point, he went further into his home when firefighters tried to rescue him.
The victim has not been identified and is in guarded condition at Strong Hospital. He was transferred to the burn unit late Tuesday afternoon.
Chief Derleth says the Collins’ and Rist’s actions were heroic and may have saved firefighters' precious time when it came to rescuing the victim.
“It was very heroic,” he said. “A lot of people won't even commit themselves to assisting their neighbors and for them to do that, it was pretty amazing.”
Collins and Rist say the victim has lived in the neighborhood for several years and was always a kind, friendly person. They say the neighbors made sure to keep a careful eye on him because of his disease and tried to help the man whenever possible. For Collins and Rist, there was no question or hesitation-- when they saw the fire they knew they had to help.
“I know the guy is sick and he wasn't able to get out himself,” said Collins. “If someone didn't try to get him out, he was going to die in there.”
“Everyone would have done that,” said Rist. “We were just trying to help.”
The cause of the fire is still under investigation. Chief Derleth says the home is a complete loss and a pet cat is still unaccounted for.