RALEIGH – A routine patching operation turned into a harrowing rescue effort last week for three N.C. Department of Transportation workers, who are being credited with saving the lives of a McDowell County family when their house caught on fire.
Friday, June 21, started out as a typical summer day on the job for Ricky Bradley, Jason Ray and Chris Painter. The men were patching asphalt on Lucky Street in Marion while two young residents of a nearby house watched them work from the front porch. Just as they were packing up to leave, the workers and the residents noticed smoke coming from the house. The men quickly took action.
“When we opened the door, black smoke just blew out,” said Painter.
Painter dialed 911 while Bradley grabbed a fire extinguisher from the truck. Meanwhile, Bradley and Ray learned from one of the residents who had been sitting on the porch that two other residents – a father, later identified as Paul May, and his son – were still inside, asleep in a back bedroom.
Bradley and Ray tried to wake the father and son by banging on windows. When they got no response, they busted out the window with the fire extinguisher and pulled the son, then the father, to safety.
Painter credits Bradley and Ray with doing “the heaviest work – knocking out the window and getting the people out of there.” Bradley also noticed a propane tank attached to the house and instructed one of the residents to turn it off, likely preventing further, and even catastrophic, damage.
The heroic actions of the NCDOT employees have been much lauded locally. J.E. Neal III, chief of the City of Marion Fire Department, wrote in a letter to NCDOT, “I am convinced that Jason and Ricky saved the lives of Mr. Robinson and his son,” and said additionally, “Chris Painter’s actions prevented another resident from either seriously injuring herself or possibly being killed by re-entering the burning building.” Their story also attracted the attention of The McDowell News, which ran feature articles on the rescue.
The men have been quick to point out that they feel any one of their fellow NCDOT workers would have acted in the same manner.
“We work with a great group of guys here, and we are confident that anybody who would have been in our situation would have done the same thing. We’re just good old country boys, and if someone is needing help, that’s just what we do,” Painter said.
The rescue was performed through a combination of quick thinking, being in the right place at the right time…and maybe something more. Ray noted that the crew of three men wouldn’t normally have all been working together – they just happened to split off into a team that day. “We feel like we were put together for a reason,” Ray said.
Painter pointed out something else – the road the men were patching that day is called Lucky Street. And for one family, that name has taken on a new meaning.
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