SAFETY HARBOR — Evelyn Bolyard was asleep on the couch when she woke to loud footsteps on her front porch.
Bolyard sat up, saw an orange glow and bolted up the stairs to wake her boyfriend, Jeffrey Sharnowski.
It was 4 a.m. Saturday.
Sharnowski flew down the stairs, fire extinguisher in hand, and flung open the front door.
"And there's Deputy Meyer pushing me back in," said Sharnowski, 45.
Deputy Ryan W. Meyer, a 13-year veteran of the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, may well have saved the couple's lives when he tracked down a smoky odor he smelled while on patrol, Bolyard said.
"If he had just chalked it up to the barbecue place up the street and gone on his way, five more minutes, it would have been too late," Bolyard said. "He's definitely a true hero."
According to the Sheriff's Office, here's what happened:
Meyer, 35, was in the area of Main Street and 10th Avenue in Safety Harbor when he smelled something burning. He got out of his cruiser and was walking along Delaware Street and 11th Avenue S when he saw an orange glow and heard crackling noises from behind 1064 Delaware St.
Meyer went a block south and found the front of the couple's home at 1059 Suwanee St. engulfed in flames. When he saw a television on inside the home, Meyer knew it was likely occupied, so he started banging on the windows.
Moments later, Sharnowski met him at the front door.
The porch was on fire, which meant they needed to find another exit. Meyer put both hands on Sharnowski's chest, pushed him back into the home and followed him inside to help the couple escape, they said.
Sharnowski scooped up their 3-year-old miniature poodle, Snickers, where it was hiding underneath a table. The couple and their dog hightailed it to a sliding glass door, with Meyer escorting them, Bolyard said. Ultimately, the group was able to get to the front yard by going through the garage.
"By the time we got across the street and turned around, it was going right up the house," Bolyard said. "There were flames right at the roof line and it's a two-story house."
Bolyard said Meyer was "very calming, reassuring" and even stayed past the end of his shift to look after the couple.
"He was very humble. He said 'I'm just doing my job,' " she said.
Detectives with the Sheriff's Office's arson unit were still investigating the cause of the fire on Monday, but said it doesn't appear suspicious.
The couple said they have working smoke alarms, but they hadn't sounded because smoke had not yet breached the interior. Bolyard said it chills her to think how the morning might have ended if Meyer hadn't come to their home.
"I get emotional just thinking — not what happened and what damage there is — but what could have happened without him," she said. "Thank God he was there. We're very lucky to have him patrolling Safety Harbor."