23 February 2017
The smart actions of a Lake Monticello woman during a Feb. 7 house fire likely saved her life and that of her daughter, said Fire Chief Richie Constantino of the Lake Monticello Volunteer Fire Department (LMVFD).
In the middle of the night, Freddie Simpson awakened to heavy smoke in the second-floor bedroom of her Jefferson Drive home, according to a public post she made on her Facebook page.
“I felt the door and it was hot,” she wrote. “I remembered the movie Backdraft and did not open it.”The decision not to open the door may have meant the difference between life and death, said Constantino. He praised Simpson for having the presence of mind to check the heat of the door. Had she opened it, he said, superheated gases and smoke might have incapacitated Simpson and her daughter before they could make their escape. Simpson’s husband was out of town, so her 14-year-old daughter was sharing the master bedroom with her. They had no phone in the bedroom so they yelled for help from the back deck, Simpson wrote, but they received no response. From the deck they could see flames on the ground floor.
Simpson then gathered sheets from the bed. She and her daughter tied the sheets together and then to the deck railing. Her daughter was a “brave ninja warrior,” she wrote, sliding 15 feet down the sheets to the ground and then breaking the fall of the family’s two dogs as Simpson dropped them from the deck. Simpson injured her back and foot in the descent, but they were able to get to a neighbor’s house to call 911.
LMVFD and the Palmyra, Fork Union and Kents Store companies of the Fluvanna Volunteer Fire Department were dispatched at around 2:25 a.m., Constantino said. They found a “hot, intense fire” on the ground floor which was advancing up the home’s exterior cedar shingling and the interior duct work. Firefighters “conducted an aggressive interior coordinated fire attack” and had it under control within a few minutes, he said.
Simpson wrote that the fire was caused by a short in the fuse box. The house sustained heavy smoke and heat damage, Constantino said.
Constantino said that “only in the movies” had he ever seen an escape from a house fire using bedsheets.
“I’ve been doing this a long time, and this was pretty amazing,” he said.
A GoFundMe fundraising campaign called “Freddie’s Fund” has been launched to help the family as they rebuild (https://www.gofundme.com/freddies-fund).
“We are so lucky to be alive and so blessed now by the support, generosity and love of our friends,” Simpson wrote.