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MILLERSBURG -- Although the house was destroyed, there was no loss of life; and for their efforts to ensure all were brought to safety, Holmes County commissioners recently honored those who responded to a Dec. 2 house fire.
In doing so, they passed a proclamation recognizing Holmes Fire District No. 1, specifically the Ladder 7 crew of Lt. Brian Rafferty and Ryan Smith; members of the Millersburg Police Department; and the Holmes County Sheriff's Office; as well as a local citizen, David Coil.
"These people are deserving of special recognition and we notably express our continued appreciation, support and gratitude because responses such as these make it plain as day that heroes live among us," the proclamation reads. It gives kudos to those who joined together to rescue resident Mike Spillman, who had been trapped inside the burning house.
"The Lord probably put me in that position for some reason," said Coil, who was returning home from a shopping trip when, skipping his normal shortcut through town, he came upon the South Washington Street house fully engulfed in flames.
Pulling his truck to within five feet of the door, he said, he hear from bystanders that Spillman remained inside. And then, he could hear the man yelling.
Twice Coil entered the home, crawling on the ground to avoid exposure to the smoke; but he was unable to reach Spillman. "I could make it to the living room and I could hear him on the other side of the couch," Coil said, "but I couldn't stand up (to move across the couch) or I would have been done."
While he went inside, he said, he was assisted by another civilian and Millersburg Police officers, who helped shine light into the home. "I led the charge, but it wasn't just me," Coil said.
The officers, Jeff Lay and Amanda Steele, also attempted to enter the home and assist Spillman, "but the fire was too involved," said Chief S. Thomas Vaughn.
They did help to expedite arrival of firefighters, by calling direct to dispatch with information, according to Vaughn, who added, "They both did a great job that evening. They did their best to get into the house, but were unable to."
Emotionally charged and cognizant of the passing seconds, Coil said he immediately grabbed Rafferty off the fire truck and, with the patrolmen, helped suit him up and send him in, giving specific instructions on where he could find Spillman.
Somewhat apologetic for his haste, Coil said, "I didn't give (Rafferty) the chance to follow his protocol. We tanked him up and shoved him in the building. (Spillman) wouldn't have had a lot of time left."
The day after the fire, Rafferty said he gave little thought to entering the smoke-filled home to rescue Spillman. "I could hear him moaning and yelling," said Rafferty, who found Spillman lying on his back about 10 to 12 feet from the door. He grabbed him by the arms and dragged him out.
Spillman suffered smoke inhalation and burns to several parts of his body. He was transported to Pomerene Hospital and then flown via emergency helicopter to the burn unit at Akron Children's Hospital. He was discharged within days of being admitted.
"I honestly never thought anything of it. I could hear him, and knew I was going to get him out," said Rafferty, adding that because he knew the man was only feet away from the fire, "It was down to the last minute or so before it would have got worse."
Coil said he doesn't feel deserving of recognition and "all the recognition I needed was when we closed the squad doors and (Spillman) was in there. Everyone else did their job fabulously."
District No. 1 Fire Chief Scott Balder said all played a critical role in helping rescue Spillman and extinguish the fire.
The department, he said, works well with law enforcement throughout the county.
And, "civilians (without putting themselves in danger) can give us information before we get there so we can plan and execute what we need to do when we get there if someone is trapped."
On the day in question, Rafferty and Smith "made a quick response to the fire and, when they found out someone was trapped, (Rafferty) made entry and pulled him out," Balder said. "It's an everyday risk we take when we go into a fire."
The house, completely destroyed by the fire, recently was razed.
Reporter Christine Pratt can be reached at 330-674-5676 or email@example.com.