By Bob Allen

WILKINSBURG (KDKA) – A group of Pittsburgh firefighters are being called heroes for putting their lives on the line in a Friday morning fire in Wilkinsburg.

A family of four was awakened Friday morning by a fire that sent thick smoke through their home in the 1000-block of Ross Avenue.

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“It was like looking at fog, it was foggy. You couldn’t smell, you couldn’t breathe, it was so hard,” victim Kenya Felder said. “My baby, I had to run up to the third floor to get my baby.”

Felder and her small child and mother got out safely, but her 86-year-old grandmother, who cannot walk, was trapped on the second floor.

“My grandmother, she couldn’t move,” Felder said. “I didn’t know what I was going to do. I thought I was going to lose her.”

 

A neighbor took a picture of firefighters rescuing the grandmother, who only had a few seconds to get out. By then, the fire jumped to three alarms, and flames engulfed the top floors of the structure, causing imminent danger for firefighters on the second floor. Within seconds, seven firefighters were trapped and had to jump or go down a ladder head-first.

“They had to literally jump off the roof for them to not get seriously hurt,” neighbor Kevin Jermany said.

Mayor Bill Peduto and Chief Darryl Jones went to local hospitals to visit the injured firefighters, who suffered burns and broken bones.

“To each of them, I wanted to say thank you from the people of Pittsburgh,” Mayor Peduto said. “They saved an elderly woman’s life, who would not be with us this afternoon had they not put their own lives in jeopardy.”

“They will remain humble, they will tell you it’s all in a day’s work,” Chief Darryl Jones said. “But I am here to tell you that I am very proud to be a part of this organization.”

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“It’s devastating to lose your house in a fire and then to know the people that rescued you could have also died as well,” Wilkinsburg City Council member Vanessa McCarthy-Johnson said.

She said the story of Friday’s fire on Ross Avenue can only be described using one word — heroic.

“I absolutely love the firefighters. They are some of the best people you’ll ever want to meet. Personality-wise, very generous, offering their lives for my residents and all of us,” McCarthy-Johnson said.

Almost offering their lives is what they did Friday.

“It was either bail or die,” Chief Jones said.

This is a choice Chief Jones says firefighters rarely have to make.

“Whenever you have to bail out of a second floor window, although we practice it as part of our training, it is a last ditch effort. It’s the last option you have,” Chief Jones said.

McCarthy-Johnson says she knows it’s no easy task to fight a fire. She says she shadowed some firefighters during training a couple years ago.

“That’s where I learned my appreciation for firefighters. Dressed in full gear, head to toe. 80 pounds worth of gear. It takes a very special person,” McCarthy-Johnson said.

“I told each one of them I appreciate their sacrifice that they made today. Because of them, a lady gets to live a little bit longer and a family gets to keep their parent and grandparent a little bit longer,” Chief Jones said.

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Three firefighters were admitted to Mercy Hospital. One suffered a broken back, and the others had severe burns. Another firefighter is being treated at West Penn Hospital. Officials hope they all will fully recover. Meanwhile, the cause of the fire remains under investigation.