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Ala. firefighter responds to fire that killed brother

Firefighter Willie Sumlin responded to the fire, unaware that his brother was trapped inside


By Carol Robinson
Alabama Media Group

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Authorities have now released the name of a man who died in a house fire Saturday night, a blaze to which the victim's firefighter brother responded not knowing a loved one was trapped inside.

The Jefferson County Coroner's Office on Monday identified the victim as Larry Earl Sumlin. He was 61.

Birmingham Fire and Rescue Service responded about 9:40 p.m. Saturday to the blaze in the 1300 block of 16th Street North. When they arrived on the scene, the home was engulfed and the victim was trapped inside, said Capt. Bryan Harrell.

Among those firefighters responding was the brother of the victim, Willie Sumlin. "It's something every firefighter dreads, responding to a call involving a family member,'' Harrell said.

Larry Sumlin - who used a wheelchair - was trapped in the back bedroom of the home. Another brother lived across the street, spotted the smoke and tried to rescue him, but was driven back by the flames. He received minor burns, and did not have to be taken to the hospital.

It took firefighters about 45 minutes to get the blaze under control because there were exposed homes on either side.

Harrell said the cause of the fire hasn't been confirmed, but they are looking at the possibility it started as a cooking fire in the kitchen.

Larry Sumlin was pronounced dead on the scene at 10:17 p.m. His brother's son too is a Birmingham firefighter, also named Willie Sumlin, but he wasn't on duty at the time.

Harrell said other family members lived close by and rushed to the home. "According to the firefighters here, it was an emotional scene,'' Harrell said.

A BFRS chaplain was called to home. Harrell said it's a concern of all first responders who work in areas where their loved ones live. "This is something that doesn't happen very often,'' he said, "but it does happen."

Harrell said Monday morning that the department is working to support not only Sumlin's family members, but all of the firefighters who responded to the scene.

Willie Sumlin's captain said it was tough for all of them to realize what was happening. "He said it was the worst day on his 24 years in the fire department, realizing it was a firefighter's family member,'' he said. "We're doing what we can to support all of them."

Copyright 2017 Alabama Media Group

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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