Pa. newspaper carrier rescues elderly couple from burning house

"I had to go in to try to help her because I knew he wasn't coming out of the house without his wife," said Jennifer Colarossi

By Tony LaRussa
The Tribune-Review

TARENTUM, Pa. — Becoming a hero was the furthest thing from Jennifer Colarossi's mind while she was delivering newspapers in Tarentum before the sun came up Monday.

She was just trying out a few changes to her delivery route to see if she could shave a little time off the process.

That decision might have saved the lives of an elderly couple when a fire erupted at their home in the 900 block of Grantham Street.

Colarossi, 38, of the Natrona Heights section of Harrison, who has been delivering the Tribune-Review for about six months, said she had already delivered papers along Grantham. She was driving back up the street to get to some other homes when she smelled smoke.

"At first, I thought it was fog, but then I could smell that it was smoke," she said.

Colarossi said her awareness that she was the first person on the scene of the house fire was heightened by an incident that happened Saturday.

"I was driving home from shopping at the Pittsburgh Mills and, just after I got off the Natrona exit, I had to pull over because my car was on fire," she said. "Not just smoking, fully engulfed. I lost everything — the car, my purse and about $400 worth of stuff that I just bought at Walmart. The only thing left was a package of cinnamon buns a firefighter found in the trunk."

Colarossi said her first response when she came upon the fire Monday was to call 911 and then check if anyone was inside.

"At first, I thought the front door was shut, but then I realized it was open and it was so dark because of the thick black smoke inside," she said.

Colarossi said she encountered a woman who was yelling from just inside the open door that she was unable to move because she previously had suffered a stroke. The woman's husband was standing at the threshold and helped to guide Colarossi to his wife who was on the floor.

"The smoke was so thick I couldn't see my hand in front of my face, but I had to go in to try to help her because I knew he wasn't coming out of the house without his wife," Colarossi said. "I felt like he was about to go down, too."

Colarossi said the woman's husband was showing signs of being overcome by the smoke, so she made a quick decision.

"I pulled my hoodie up to cover my face and went inside," she said. "I told the woman I was so sorry for hurting her as I lifted her under the arms and dragged and heaved her out of there. Then I helped the man get outside."

A police officer arrived just as Colarossi got the woman onto the front porch and helped Colarossi move her to a grassy area across the street, she said.

Colarossi said she waited for a short time while firefighters worked to extinguish the fire, but, once police gave her the go-ahead to leave, she went back to work.

"I still had about 50 papers to deliver, so I called my daughter to check in with her and then went back to work," she said. "I'm just happy that I was there at that time and was able to do something to try to help them."

Colarossi thinks fate might have played a role in the circumstances that allowed her to act.

"I was really upset and feeling bad about losing all my stuff in the fire on Saturday," she said. "But it made me super aware of fires. I think it was God putting it all together for me."

Mike Koval, chief of the Highland Hose Company, said the woman was transported to a hospital for treatment of smoke inhalation and the man was treated at the scene.

Koval said the house does not appear to have suffered any major structural damage but has been boarded up temporarily because of damage from smoke and water. The cause of the fire is being investigated by the Allegheny County Fire Marshal.

The fire chief said Colarossi showed great bravery entering a burning building to help the couple.

"For most people who encounter a fire, the first thought is to get out of there," he said. "So, to hear that someone went in to help others is no less heroic than the things firefighters do.

"For some people, a switch flips on when they encounter danger and they go toward it and do what needs to be done. Let's be thankful that the woman who was at that fire today was that type of person."


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McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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