Firefighter saves paralyzed woman from fire on his way to work

John McLaughlin said he saw a handicapped access ramp attached to the home and went inside to find the woman in the living room surrounded by flames

By Cody Shephard and Thom Relihan
The Enterprise

BROCKTON, Mass. — The alert flashed over Brockton Firefighter John McLaughlin's phone: there was a reported building fire at 63 Woodward Avenue, just a few streets away from where he was driving on his way to work.

He took a left turn onto the street, then noticed the handicapped access ramp attached to the front of the building in question. That's when his instincts, honed over his 19 years on the department, took over.

"I saw the ramp, and it sparked my training. I thought 'There might be someone in there who can't get out,'" McLaughlin told The Enterprise Wednesday evening. "When I opened the door up, I saw her laying there in the living room on a hospital bed."

He also saw flames crawling up the wall next to her to the ceiling. "My instinct was to get her out of there before it extended to the sheets, her clothing and her," he said.

He lifted the woman up and carried her out the door to safety, where she was evaluated by other firefighters and taken to Signature Healthcare Brockton Hospital to be evaluated.

"I was there at the right time in the right place," said McLaughlin of the save. "If I had come five minutes later, I think it might have been a different story, a different outcome for this woman. But she's alive for the holidays, and her house is saved."

The Brockton Fire Department responded to the Woodward Ave. home around 6:40 a.m. after receiving a 911 call reporting the fire. They learned of the paralyzed woman's plight from McLaughlin while en route.

"He received a direct page from our system on his phone," Deputy Fire Chief Brian Nardelli told The Enterprise. "He looked inside the home and there was a woman on a hospital bed. She was unable to ambulate on her own."

When the other firefighters arrived, light smoke was coming from the one-story Cape-style home and they learned McLaughlin had rescued the woman.

"It was a quick little fire," Nardelli said. "They put a little bit of water on it and brought the items outside."

The fire was caused by a match in the woman's hospital bed. Nardelli said it was accidental and not related to smoking.

The victim, 68-year-old Susan Peterson, the homeowner, was taken by ambulance to Signature Healthcare Brockton Hospital for an evaluation.

"She was transported as a precaution," he said.

McLaughlin said he was uninjured.

Copyright 2017 The Enterprise


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