Md. kids saved from fire reunite with 911 staff, firefighters
At Prince George's County Fire/EMS Station 832, there were hugs, clapping and the occasional tears. This was something to celebrate. Inside the station house, 13-year-old Marcus McCoy and his 9-year-old sister, Aaliyah, sat with their family waiting to meet the firefighters and 911 dispatchers who came to their rescue.
"I can't thank them enough for saving me and my little sister," Marcus told them.
On Sunday morning, the family woke to smoke and flames inside their Clinton home. Marcus and Aaliyah were in a second-floor bedroom trapped.
The 13-year-old called 911. With his sister screaming for help, and at one point worried she was going to die, he kept calm. The 911 call taker, Kristen Ritter, kept Marcus on the phone for eleven agonizing minutes, giving him directions about what to do and getting the information firefighters needed to find them.
"I can't even say how wonderful it felt to hear your voice and how calm you were in that situation," Ritter told Marcus on Tuesday.
It's a situation firefighters see too often, but that doesn't usually end like this.
"If you're a firefighter, you dream for moments like this," said Lt. Kenneth Ward, the firefighter first to reach the children.
Getting the children out of the home involved a lot of heroes, including Marcus, the dispatchers and the firefighter who got them out.
"Faced with a smoke-filled hallway and increasing heat, Marcus and Aaliyah held themselves up in a top floor bedroom with the door closed where Marcus made a 911 call that would prove heroic," said Prince George's County Fire Chief Marc Bashoor.
The fire chief gave Aaliyah an award for bravery. Marcus, the 911 call taker and dispatcher were given a meritorious service award for their actions during the fire.
"I didn't think I was that brave," the boy said. "I was just trying to call get help. Get out."
On the 911 call, you can hear Marcus answering the 911 call takers questions and following instructions. At one point, his mother is still in the house and Marcus asks if he should tell her to leave. Ritter tells him she should get out if she can and the boy yells to her to get out.
At the same time, he is still able to provide clear directions about what room he is in, following directions to shut the door and cover the vents.
"I was scared, I don't know how I could be calm," he said.
When Aaliyah yells, she thinks she is going to die. He tells her don't say that. The little girl remembers her brother giving her instructions.
"I heard the operator tell him to tell me to get on the floor where he is, so I did," Aaliyah said. "He said, ‘Close your eyes.'"
At the same time, Ritter is putting information into the dispatch system. Hunter Dashnow, the dispatcher, is able to relay everything to the firefighters headed to the house.
"It takes a matter of seconds for things to go bad," Dashnow said. "To know the child was in the upstairs right bedroom -- then they can go there right away."
As fire trucks arrive, Lt. Ward was sent upstairs to find the children. Outside, firefighters put up a ladder to the window.
"Right here, right here," screams Marcus.
The firefighter finds Marcus first.
"I'm in the middle of removing one child and have the other one tugging on my leg," said Ward.
That tug came from Aaliyah who was on the floor next to her brother. The smoke was so thick that the firefighter couldn't see her.
"Marcus said, 'My little sister is down there,' so I just tugged on the firefighter's leg and he found me and took me out the window," the girl recalled.
The children were taken out safely. Their parents had already escaped.
"You don't always get a happy ending and I was so happy to see your happy ending," said Ritter, happy to finally meet the boy on the other end of the phone.
Marcus says he knew what to do because his family taught him. That lesson saved him and his sister.
"Thank you for saving my life," Aaliyah said, turning to her brother.
He hugged her as everyone clapped and she wiped away a tear.