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Fast-acting neighbor saves Winfield home from fire

| Thursday, Nov. 20, 2003

WINFIELD: As a member of the Saxonburg Volunteer Fire Company for more than a decade, township resident Gary Rothen is no stranger to the dangers of firefighting.

But usually when 36-year-old Rothen runs into burning buildings, he does so with proper equipment and the assistance of his fellow firefighters.

That was not the case on Wednesday night, when this neighbor extraordinaire pulled into the driveway of his home on Bear Creek Road and saw smoke pouring out of a single-story wooden ranch house two doors away.

The house at 488 Bear Creek Road belongs to Rothen's neighbor, Penny Rich, who lives there with her four children.

Without a second thought, Rothen said he pulled his sweatshirt over his face to filter out the smoke, grabbed a fire extinguisher from Rich's teenage son and crawled into the pitch-black house to try to put out the blaze.

"It was pretty much like any other fire," Rothen said. "I knew what was involved going in, and you do what you're trained."

Rothen said he then came back out to get another fire extinguisher and re-entered the hot, smoky house.

He said the flames had burned through part of the floor in the sitting room near the front entrance to the house.

"I hit it again with the extinguisher, and it was just smoldering after that," Rothen said.

Fire crews from Buffalo, Winfield and Saxonburg arrived minutes later, he said.

No one was injured in the fire, which began in the basement and caused minor damage, according to Winfield Fire Chief Kevin Smith.

It took firefighters about 5 minutes to put out the blaze after Rothen's initial efforts, Smith said.

Although the cause and origin of the fire were unknown Wednesday night, it was not suspicious, according to Smith.

Rothen said his efforts went a long way toward saving the Rich house, and Smith agreed.

"The whole room would've been engulfed if I hadn't gone in," Rothen said. "There'd definitely be a lot more damage."

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