In a story that every parent should read and take not of, a 12-year-old girl is being credited with saving the lives of her two younger siblings during a house fire that engulfed the family’s two-story home. It’s a lesson that highlights both the importance of going over fire safety with your family as well as the ability of children to act appropriately in life-saving ways when the need arises.
Derrionna Adams and two of her siblings were asleep in the upper story of their East St. Louis, Illinois home. Velma Dorris, the children’s mother, and her husband, Bernard, were sleeping down-stairs with three of their other children. It was around 2:30 A.M. when a fire broke out. Flames soon engulfed the stairs, which not only kept Derrionna’s parents from getting to the other children to rescue them, it kept the three siblings trapped upstairs, preventing escape. It’s the type of situation that all too often ends in disaster.
In this case, Derrionna’s quick thinking and bravery saved the day. She rounded up her siblings and managed to kick out a second-story window. She then gently tossed her 9-year-old brother and 6-year-old sister to safety, before leaping the 15-feet herself. Thanks to Derrionna’s decisive action (with some heroic assistance from her 9-year-old brother, Dedeonta Neal) the entire family got out safely. Fire investigators suspect the blaze started from a space heater.
East St. Louis Fire Chief William Fennoy summed it up: “She
kicked the window out and stepped up onto the roof of the first
floor and was able to pull her two siblings out,” he said. “This was a blessed day.” The fire left one of the kids, 9-year-old Neal, with burns on both his arms. He also suffered a broken ankle in the fall, according to relatives. Despite these injuries, he then went back inside the burning home to try to save his other siblings. (Very brave, but also a very big no-no in a house fire: never go back inside. As is often the case, the others had already gotten out, so he could have lost his life trying to rescue people who had already made it to safety. This is also why you should designate a pre-arranged meeting place for family members to go to once out, so that firefighters don’t lose their lives trying to rescue a ghost.) Neal was hospitalized from his injuries, but was doing OK, according to family members.
The other children were not injured, though the house was a total
loss. It was destroyed before firefighters could put out the blaze.
Family members lost everything, but were lucky to escape with
their lives. “We are a family of eight,” said Velma Dorris, Derrionna’s mother. “If it was not for my daughter, we would be a family of five. I thank her.”
Mayor Alvin Parks Jr. called the girl a “true hero–demonstrating
tremendous courage and wisdom and insight in making sure she got her younger siblings out of that building.” He later presented her with a plaque and declared it Derrionna Adams day. Fire chief Fennoy dubbed her “firefighter No. 60;” an honor for the department that has 59 firefighters. He asked everyone to place them-selves in her shoes, and imagine being awoken in their pajamas at 2:30 a.m., with family members on the first and second floors, fire working its way along the stairway, preventing escape, and the air smoky, dark, and sweltering hot. “She didn’t think just about herself, and she made quick decisions.”
The quiet sixth-grader stood modestly, smiling shyly, while her
fellow classmates clapped and cheered during presentation of the award. The school’s cheerleaders even made up a special cheer just for her. Elementary school principal Rowena Lewis gave Derrionna an envelope containing $750 that had been collected for her and her family over two days. Another one of the Adams siblings got an envelope full of cards from her x classmates, and other organizations pitched in to offer the family gift cards, clothes, games, and a place to stay through the East St. Louis Housing Authority. Along with Derrionna, her siblings Bernice Dorris, Bernicia Dorris and Dedeonta Neal were also recognized for their bravery and courage. When it was allover, Derrionna thanked everyone for their support of her family.
This story illustrates a couple things: First is the importance of
going over fire escape plans with your family, and ensuring that
each member knows at least two alternate routes from which to
escape from their bedroom. The second is that as Derrionna demonstrates, children can and will act in life-saving ways amidst an emergency, when they are given proper information about what to do ahead of time. But parents have to give them that knowledge and training. (You can find free books and resources for which to do this on the following fire safety for kids page.) Let’s all do our part to make sure we have a lot more stories that end like this one.