Tragedy averted in Friday afternoon blaze

By Jason Schock

“The last thing in the world you want to see when you drive around the corner is…your daughter’s house on fire,” father, grandfather, husband, brother, mechanic, and life-long Falls City resident Tim Campbell said Monday, suppressing his emotions, albeit behind watery eyes. 

The 49-year-old took a brief break from his job at Hullman’s Ford to discuss his other full-time job — that of father and grandfather — that Friday afternoon with a ring of a telephone turned into any dad’s worst nightmare. His married daughter, home alone with her infant sons, Tim and his wife Rita’s grandsons, called her father at work. 

A more horrifying message could never enter the man’s ear: Allison and her baby boys Robbie (1 1/2) and Alex (four months) were calling from inside a burning building. And there were two others in the house, fast asleep and cornered on the second floor as flames quickly ascended the stairs.

Tim made like a 429 Boss, exploding from the garage at 14th and Harlan before coming to a screeching halt at 2021 McLean. In the meantime, Campbell made the 911 call. Firefighters were on the scene in minutes. 

Unfortunately, Lisa Williams, 21, and Cord Gibson, 27, needed help in a matter of seconds. Campbell’s frenzied drive was followed immediately by good news when he arrived at the southwest corner of 21st and McClean Sts., and father met daughter and those little boys at the front door. Safe, if not particularly sound. 

His attention then redirected to saving Williams and Gibson, a couple who work nightshifts and rent the second floor of the house from Allison and her husband Robert Sanders. Tim said he made a short scramble around the neighborhood in search of a ladder before scrapping that idea. Williams and Gibson, both by now wide awake but struggling to breathe in an increasingly hot, smoke-filled environment, were forced out a second floor window. 

Tim, with the aid of Mike Dishong, who by chance was driving by and stopped to help, convinced the young couple to hang from the window sill before dropping to the men and safety.

Both were taken to Community Medical Center for treatment of smoke inhalation. Gibson was then transferred to Lincoln for more intensive treatment on his lungs. Both are now out of the hospital and recovering well. Neither Allison or the little boys were injured. 

Falls City Fire Chief Kenny Simpson said 13 volunteers from Falls City, nine more rural (including Tim’s youngest brother, Bob, who heard the call, believed it was his niece’s home and got info that people – no names – were trapped on the second floor), were there in minutes, as were members of the FC Volunteer Ambulance Squad and the Richardson County Emergency Management Agency. Firemen quickly extinguished the grease fire, packed up and left in time for happy hour. 

Firemen quickly deduced that the fire started in the kitchen and, as fires do, sought oxygen and moved vertically. The stairs leading to the second floor sit directly adjacent to the kitchen. 

The home is a “total loss,” according to Tim. The young couples are each back in living with parents, all or most of their belongings are destroyed and everything else will forever smell like Friday, Oct. 3, 2014 — and yet this was, and is, truly a “happy” hour. If for no other reason other than they are not the saddest of days for Falls City, these families and their friends. The potential depth of tragedy avoided Friday is nearly incomprehensible, yet was very close to becoming reality. 

“Five more minutes, I’m not sure we would’ve gotten the fire out,” Simpson said. “I don’t know that we would’ve gotten inside the home and you have to get in the house to get water on the fire.”

Time, certainly, is of the essence. So let that be a lesson to each of us. This is, afterall, National Fire Prevention Week.

 

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