Raisin Township honors responders who rescued woman from house fire on Sutton Road
By DEB WUETHRICH
Shirley Heal has no memory of the fire that nearly took her life last December when her Sutton Road home in Raisin Township became engulfed in flames and quickly burned to the ground. Her husband, Sam, considers that a blessing, however. He remembers everything.
“It was a night of horror, and it keeps coming back,” said Sam. “Now I know how soldiers who came back from World War II felt, and some others since then. We lost so much.”
Still, the couple feels fortunate to have survived the inferno. Sam managed to escape out a rear door of the house. Shirley, however, was trapped in a bedroom. When Corporal Ben Oram, of the Lenawee County Sheriff Department, stepped from his squad car after responding to a dispatch, he saw dancing wires in the driveway and heard the faint sounds of someone calling for help, noting that trying to locate the source of the muffled sound was “like trying to find a kitten in the woods.”
Corporal Oram did, however, locate the sound, and soon was able to pull Shirley through the window. When Tecumseh Police Officer Jay Nieman arrived, the two had to move her away from the falling debris. Shortly after that, other fire and rescue crews began to arrive and went into action, working with the Heals and attempting to put out the fire.
“Thank God for Ben,” said Shirley. “He’s my Superman.” The Heals said their youngest daughter, Cindy, put it best shortly after the fire when she told Ben, “You’re my hero forever,” a sentiment Shirley agrees with.
The Raisin Township Fire Department held an awards banquet on Saturday, Sept. 27, and presented several citations to the individuals that played a role at the scene on Sutton Road. Sam and Shirley Heal also were present for the event.
“It was so nice to finally put the names to the faces,” said Shirley. “Since I was unconscious after the fire and they kept me that way for several days, I only know what others have told me.” She was first taken to Herrick Medical Center by Lenawee County ambulance, but later transferred to the University of Michigan Trauma Center, and had to spend about a month in Glacier Hills. Two daughters from Pennsylvania and Maryland quickly came to Michigan to be at their mother’s side.
Corporal Oram and Officer Nieman received Distinguished Service citations. Captain Jim Hannah, of the Raisin Township Fire Department, Troy Vance, Lenawee Community Ambulance EMT, and David Larrowe, Lenawee Community Ambulance paramedic each received Lifesaving Citations; and Ray Tuberville, Raisin Township firefighter/EMT received a Unit Citation.
Sam said the family lost so much, including antiques and photos that had been in the family for generations, some of which he had intended to restore. He said he still struggles with the fact that he might have been able to rescue more of the several cats that were lost in the blaze. They had rescued a cat that later had kittens. Three survived the fire and they still have them.
“I used to swim and I can hold my breath for several minutes, and I can’t help but think that I might have been able to rescue more of them,” said Sam. He went to the hospital with Shirley, however, and also was treated for smoke inhalation but said he was not really injured — except for the recurring memories. He said two of the cats lived upstairs with their daughter, Cheryl, who was living with them at the time but not at home. “We couldn’t save the cats and if our daughter had been home, we might have lost her, too. That house went up so fast,” he said. He recalled seeing a barn fire in the UP once, and said the house burned much faster. The morning after the fire, after sifting through the rubble, Sam recalls having a conversation with Corporal Oram.
“It turns out we have a lot in common,” he said. “We both love the Upper Peninsula, and we both collect rocks. I felt like I gained a friend.”
Raisin Township Fire Chief Richard Renard was pleased to be able to present the citations, along with Supervisor Carl Wagner, and was especially proud of the actions of his own team members prior to the arrival of the ambulance team.
“They were able to assess the situation and begin treatment,” he said. Renard said that no cause for the fire was ever pinpointed, even after an investigation. The family has been living in Manchester. They soon will be back in Raisin Township, where they had resided for two or three years after moving from Sterling Heights, however. A new home is almost completed on the same site.
“We’re going to stay,” said Sam. “We’re looking forward to getting back there.”
Though Corporal Oram is modest about his role, maintaining that it is something he hopes anyone in his situation would have done, Shirley says, in retrospect, “Ben stays on my mind constantly. He’s a fine man and a friend for life and I am grateful for him and all the other people who helped us.”
Several other recognitions for firefighter/EMTs were made at the banquet. Members who retired in 2007 were: Chris Thompson, 17 years of service, and Lori Renard, 16 years of service. Members recognized for 15 years of service were: Rick Renard (2006) and Steve Eberle (2007). For 10 years of service: John Pate (2008). Recognized for 5 years of service were: Ed Mathis and Matt Sisty (2005); John Gamel, Rod Schroeder, and Todd Struck (2006); Matt Mitchell, Mark Bauer, and Eric Schnur (2007). New department members also were recognized: Leo Brewer, Patrick Mathis, John Nelson, Adam Keller, James Torres, and Scott Marriott. Renard said that the department would like to make the awards banquet an annual event.
Editor’s Note: The Tecumseh Herald team of Mickey Alvarado and Deb Wuethrich recently won a second place award in the 2008 Michigan Press Association Better Newspaper Contest for the story and photos about this fire.