Hero rises above smoke in Palm Harbor

PALM HARBOR — Scott Ford is about 6-foot-7 and weighs 215 pounds. Rita Lewis is about a foot shorter and much lighter.

But in that smoke-filled bedroom, he said it was awkward to pick her up off her burning bed and lift her out of the window.

Still, Ford risked his life to carry Lewis to safety one evening last month. For that, Palm Harbor Fire Rescue honored him as a hero this week.

"Undoubtedly, it was Ford's unselfish acts of bravery that led to a positive outcome for all involved," Palm Harbor Fire Rescue Chief James Angle said.

Ford, 25, and his wife, Erina, both work at Raymond James Financial. They live in a condominium in the 2900 block of Bonaventure Circle in Palm Harbor.

About 8:30 p.m. Feb. 19, Ford went outside simply to dump the trash. He heard beeping. Then he saw smoke. An elderly man stood coughing on his second-floor balcony.

Ford asked the man, 84-year-old Kenneth Lewis, if he needed help. Lewis said he was fine, but said his wife was asleep in the front bedroom.

Ford ran upstairs to the front door of the condo on the second floor.

"The full house was full of smoke," Ford said. "I attempted to run in the front door a few times, but I could not make it."

So he ran to the window outside of the bedroom where Rita Lewis, 72, was in bed.

He pulled off the screen. The adrenaline must have been flowing, Ford said, because the window was locked but he forced it open without breaking the glass.

"The smoke was literally so thick you couldn't see your hand in front of your face," he said Thursday.

"I screamed and she was screaming," he said. "I said, 'Reach out your hand as far as you can.' As soon as I felt her body, I grabbed her and took her out the window."

Just then, the fire engines pulled up.

The whole rescue must have lasted only four minutes, Ford said. But it felt longer.

Lewis went to the hospital, was treated for minor smoke inhalation and was released the next morning. A firefighter also was treated for a fire-related injury, but neither Ford nor Kenneth Lewis were hurt.

Ford said he later saw firefighters take out a bed mattress with a big hole in it.

The fire was determined to be an accident caused by smoking. The damage was $5,000.

On Wednesday night, Palm Harbor Fire Rescue officials honored Ford during the meeting of the agency's Fire Commission.

"At first, I was hesitant to go because I did not think it was that big of a deal," Ford said. But "when I saw the recognition from my family and friends, it was definitely a good feeling"

And he isn't the only one feeling good.

"I'm very grateful ... and my wife is, too," Kenneth Lewis said Thursday.

Ford said he has never met the Lewises, besides the few seconds he carried her.

He has asked himself whether he would do it again.

"I said, 'Yeah,' " he said. "Knowing that a 72-year-old lady is in a room full of smoke ready to die."

Ford and his wife now have a memory that, fortunately, they can laugh about.

"She made a joke," Ford said. "I'm not allowed to take the trash out at night anymore."

Jose Cardenas can be reached at jcardenas@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4224.

Hero rises above smoke in Palm Harbor 03/13/08 [Last modified: Thursday, March 13, 2008 8:39pm]

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