Three race to save neighbor from home fire
August 30, 2010
NEW CASTLE – George Mosher, Dave Russell and Richard Pappas saw flames and smoke, and they came running.
They all knew the man who lived in the single-wide trailer house, and they reacted with frantic desperation hoping to save his life.
The resident was large and elderly, and they knew he needed help. Although officials had not confirmed that there was a fatality in the fire as of press time, witnesses were certain the resident didn’t make it out.
By the time the three good Samaritans arrived on the scene, flames blocked the front door. The back door was bolted shut.
Russell grabbed an ax, Mosher a crowbar.
“I knew he was still in there. I just knew we had to try and get him out,” Mosher said after sitting in an ambulance for 45 minutes taking in oxygen.
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The men ripped open the back door. Mosher, ignoring heavy smoke that hit him in the face, leapt inside looking for his neighbor.
“I made it about three steps into the hallway and all I saw was black, then I saw flames,” Mosher said.
He knew he couldn’t make it any farther
“I jumped right back out,” the 56-year-old said. “I couldn’t breath. [The smoke] just snatched the breath right out of me.”
Royce Mosher, George’s wife of 36 years – their anniversary is Wednesday – said it didn’t surprise her at all that her husband did everything in his power to help.
“That’s the kind of person he is. He cares about people,” Royce said.
As onlookers watched firefighters from various agencies finish putting out the fire, it was a somber Sunday evening. By 6:30 p.m., it seemed apparent to everyone that the man who lived in the small mobile home in the Mountain Shadows subdivision next to Apple Tree Park had perished in the fire.
For Russell, 50, who lives across the street, it was a “terrifying” time. He tried to save a man he called his friend, and he also remembered June 8, 2002. That’s the day when the Coal Seam Fire destroyed his home in West Glenwood.
When he saw the flames across the street, he said he just reacted. After they couldn’t get into the back door, he ran back home and returned with an ax.
“I got an ax and attacked [the back door]. It took all of us to rip it open. I started screaming for him. All I could think about was we need to get to him,” Russell said.
Russell shook his head as he watched firefighters mop up.
“It went fast,” he said of the fire. “It was absolutely terrifying. I wish we could have got to him. It’s really sad. He was a great neighbor.”
After Mosher had to retreat from his rescue attempt, Pappas, 39, found a hose and started spraying the home with water.
“We were all hoping he wasn’t in there,” he said. “After we tried to get into the back door, I knew there was no way we were going to get into the house.”
As he continued to spray water on the home, firefighter personnel started to arrive.
“They just said thanks, and they took over,” he said.
As Russell watched firefighters continue working the scene, he reflected on the neighbor he’d known for years.
“He had the man garage,” he said smiling, pointing at the large, two-car garage next to the smoldering mobile home. “He let me work in his shop.”
Russell said that when he got laid off, the man across the street was a generous neighbor.
“He called me over and said his freezer was too full,” he said. “He said I could have anything but his Omaha steaks. He loved his Omaha steaks.”
Mosher said he’d never experienced anything like he did when he jumped into the burning building.
After he jumped back out, he said he started coughing and choking, trying to get his breath back.
All three men, speaking independently, used the exact same sentence. “I wish we could have got to him.”
Even though they apparently didn’t save their neighbor’s life, the three gave a supreme effort.
“We couldn’t have done anything else. We did all we could,” Russell said.