Teens spot apartment fire, get residents out of harm’s way

Two teenage boys walked a dog outside the South Park Green apartment complex where they live on a dark, cold evening in February.

The two weren’t looking for trouble. But they found it. And they did what any two young, headstrong boys would do:

They saved the day.

“We were walking our dog and we saw all this smoke coming out of the window of this apartment,” said 18-year-old Allen Kurth, a senior at South Kitsap High School. “It was coming out pretty good.”

Kurth and 15-year-old Jeremy LaFrance, a ninth-grader at John Sedgwick Junior High School, saw the smoke coming out of a vacant ground-floor apartment Feb. 13 near the intersection of Madrona Drive and Fircrest Drive and jumped into action. Kurth ran across the street to the conveniently located fire station while LaFrance tried to alert those living next to the burning apartment.

Even though both boys live in the complex and know the neighbors, LaFrance found spurring the residents into action turned out to be harder than anticipated.

“I was knocking and knocking,” LaFrance said. “Everybody thought I was pulling a prank. Some lady didn’t believe me at all.”

As the blaze picked up and LaFrance noticed flames coming through the windows, he resorted to walking in to each of the eight apartments in the same building as the burning unit.

He’s glad he took the extra step, he said, because sitting in one the apartments was an elderly woman in a wheelchair, trapped as her home filled with smoke.

“She was just sitting there as her apartment filled up,” LaFrance said.

He wheeled her out of the apartment, and against the advice of the burning in his lungs, finished alerting the other neighbors, he said.

Meanwhile, Kurth dealt with difficulties of his own. Finding the front door to the fire station locked, he figured out a way around back to alert the firefighters. And they, too, were skeptical of the teenager crying fire.

“They kind of looked at me, like, ‘are you serious?’” Kurth said.

After a little convincing, South Kitsap Fire & Rescue brought two engines across the street and put out the blaze, Kurth said. By that time, LaFrance had managed to alert everyone in the building, and also helped save a few of the elderly resident’s animals.

“I think I saved five cats and two dogs,” LaFrance said.

LaFrance’s stepmother, Jeannette Eshbach, said what the boys did was nothing short of heroic. She said it’s a nice reminder that teenage boys, who are often painted in a dark shade, sometimes do outstanding things.

“I’m really proud of them,” she said. “You don’t usually hear about boys doing stuff like this.”

Neighbors who lived in the same building as the burning apartment will now pass them by in the complex and say thanks, LaFrance said.

For their part, the teenagers agreed if they had to go through the fire and the experience all over again, they would handle everything exactly the same.

With one exception.

“Next time, I won’t knock for so long,” LaFrance said. “I might just have to bust in.”

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