A neighbor helped an elderly man escape from his burning Flanders home on Monday morning as smoke billowed from the windows and flames licked the wood and beige vinyl siding of the single-story house.
Joe Marshall, who lives on the same block, said he was driving past the Priscilla Avenue home at around 9:30 a.m. when he spotted smoke coming from an east-facing window. After stopping and telling his friend to dial 911, Mr. Marshall said he ran toward the house to see if anyone was still inside.
“By the time I got to the door, I could actually hear crackling in the bedroom to the left,” he said on Tuesday afternoon. “I just started pounding on the door.”
He then opened the front door, only to be met by a wall of thick black smoke. He then heard a voice and, after making sure the homeowner did not have an unfriendly dog, as a sign in the yard warned, stepped inside the foyer and grabbed the man, who was using a walker, by both hands.
“I just said, ‘We have to go!’” Mr. Marshall said, noting that smoke was pouring out of the open door as the flames were creeping closer. “The window completely shattered and broke, and it was just an absolute rush of heat.”
Mr. Marshall said the man, whom he did not know, paused in the threshold of the doorway once to say he was having difficulty breathing. “I said, ‘If I have to carry you, I will,’” Mr. Marshall recalled.
The man, who was wearing socks but no shoes, made it out on his own, and they walked to Mr. Marshall’s parked truck. He then offered the victim an extra jacket to keep warm while his house continued to burn. The man also told Mr. Marshall that he does not own a dog, and no one else was in the house with him.
“I kept saying to him, ‘I’m so very sorry, but your life is the most important thing,’” Mr. Marshall said.
A Flanders-Northampton Volunteer Ambulance transported the man, whom authorities have declined to identify, to Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead. Officials with the Flanders Fire Department said the man had burns on his neck and possibly suffered from smoke inhalation.
Southampton Town records list the owner of the home as Richard Morrison.
Flanders Fire Department 1st Assistant Chief Joe Pettit commended Mr. Marshall for his bravery and actions. He said firefighters most likely would have been unable to enter the home upon their arrival, explaining that the house was fully engulfed in flames by the time the first volunteers arrived on-site.
Firefighters attacked the fire from the perimeter, dousing the flames as quickly as they could. They also used a chainsaw and other tools to cut multiple holes in the home’s roof, allowing smoke to exit and reducing the amount of heat, according to Mr. Pettit.
The chief added that the fire was contained within 20 minutes, though they spent roughly an hour making sure it would not reignite.
“I think it was a pretty good job by all members,” Mr. Pettit said. “We did the best that we could do with the situation that we had.”
Southampton Town Fire Marshal John Rankin, who is investigating the blaze, did not immediately return a call inquiring if a cause of the blaze has been determined.
The Flanders Fire Department received mutual aid from the Riverhead Fire Department and a chief with the Hampton Bays Fire Department also responded to the scene. The Hampton Bays Fire Department stood by at the Flanders firehouse for the duration of the call. The Southampton Town Police also responded.
As for Mr. Marshall, he said Tuesday that he was frightened by how quickly the fire evolved from a trace of smoke to massive flames. “I didn’t sleep very well last night,” he said.
He also dismissed the idea of being called a hero, stating that the real heroes are the first responders who help others every day.