Teens save elderly woman from house fire

HARRY PEARL
Last updated 05:00 29/05/2013
Max Wirihana
MARK TAYLOR/Fairfax NZ
QUICK ACTIONS: Max Wirihana, left, and Josh Davies saved their neighbour.

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Two Hamilton youngsters are being praised for their clear thinking and quick action in saving an elderly woman from a potentially disastrous house fire.

When 77-year-old Mary Joseph heard her smoke alarm ringing incessantly on Sunday evening, she didn't think much of it.

"I thought ‘Oh what on earth are you on about now? Because they're inclined to go off like that sometimes."

The Hamilton woman, who relies on a walker to get around, had gone down to the gate to put the rubbish out.

"I was walking back when I heard it . . . Then I walked in the front door and there was just fire, fire - all up the wall and everywhere."

Mrs Joseph, who lives alone, quickly became disoriented.

"I was just beside myself, I couldn't make anyone hear me," she said.

Next door, in the driveway adjacent to Mrs Joseph's unit, Max Wirihana and Josh Davies were playing basketball

The pair - who are both 15 years old - didn't think much of the alarm either.

"It sounded like a cellphone, it was going on for a minute or so," Josh said.

Not long after, however, Max, who is Mrs Joseph's neighbour, realised there was slightly more to it.

Smoke was billowing out of the roof of Ms Joseph's unit.

Realising the severity of the situation, the pair sprinted down the driveway and into Ms Joseph's property.

"I poked my head in [the front door], there was fire in the kitchen and there was low black smoke everywhere in the lounge," Josh said.

Flames were licking the walls next to the stovetop and the smoke was so dense the visibility was only about 1.5 metres above the floor.

"It was terrible. I couldn't see her head properly, just the lower half [of her body]," Josh said.

Mrs Joseph was in the lounge, breathing heavily and clutching her chest, the boys said.

With little regard for their own safety, the pair pushed through the smoke with shirts over their mouths and assisted Mrs Joseph out.

In the meantime, two adults from Max's house managed to put the fire out.

Speaking to the Waikato Times about the incident yesterday, Mrs Joseph - who is recuperating with family in Whangarei - heaped praise on the boys.

"They came in and were so calm. They were marvellous."

Waikato fire risk management officer Kevin Holmes said the pair intervened at a critical time.

"You can't survive in a smoke-logged environment, it's as simple as that. Smoke gets to people long before the flames do."

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Mr Holmes said the incident also showed the value of the smoke alarm.

"Not only does it raise the attention of the person that lived in the home, but on this occasion it has caught the intention of the neighbours."

- Waikato Times

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