To escape a burning home just off Freret Street on Saturday evening, a 13-year-old boy jumped from a high second-story window into the arms of of a neighbor below Saturday evening, and other neighbors rescued the boy’s mother through the window shortly afterward with a ladder, witnesses and officials said.
“I was pulling up and she was halfway down the ladder,” said NOFD District Chief Albert Faciane. “I’ve gotta give credit — that was a good neighborhood save.”
The fire began around 8:30 p.m. in a two-story triple at the corner of Upperline and South Robertson for reasons that were not immediately established, although police had one young man in custody as they awaited an arson investigator. Two smaller boys escaped the burning house, but 13-year-old Louin Whittaker and his mother were both trapped inside by flames that blocked the door.
Around the same time, 22-year-old neighbor Michael Madison was walking up the street, saw the glow of fire from the house, and began hearing screams as he drew nearer. He saw Whittaker in the window, and finally convinced the boy to make the terrifying jump out the window into his arms.
“I was thinking I was going to die,” Whittaker said afterward. “I thought I was going to fall and crack my neck or something.”
Despite the long fall, the boy felt light in his arms, Madison said.
“I didn’t even really feel it,” Madison said. “I wanted both of them to jump. We might have broken a leg or something, but we would have lived to see another day, and that’s all that matters.”The second jump wasn’t necessary, however. While Madison was coaxing the boy out the window and then getting him situated on the ground, neighbor Bill Kimber began hearing the screams from across the street. He looked outside as the children’s voices became more hysterical, smelled the smoke, and then realized there were people trapped in the house.
With the help of Aaron Zamudio, who was also standing outside, Kimber pulled out a 28-foot ladder and they ran across the street with it. They extended it the 20 feet to the window above, and managed to help the woman get out just as firefighters were arriving.
“It was a team effort,” Kimber said. “The screams were horrible. I thought somebody was going to get burned alive, and I was like, ‘Not if I can help it.’”
Dozens of people gathered in the streets, congratulating the rescuers and comforting the family members as firefighters mopped up the flames. Kerry Wolf, Kimber’s girlfriend, marveled at the way so many people contributed to the rescue — another neighbor, an elementary school teacher, had taken care of the two youngest children who escaped the house on her porch.
“That’s a neighborhood,” Wolf said.