Thursday, April 19, 2018
Public safety

Hernando sheriff's deputy rescues man from burning home

HIGH POINT — Smoke blinded Hernando sheriff's Deputy James Devorak when he walked into the burning home, but he could hear the moaning.

Devorak was the first to arrive about 7:40 p.m. Tuesday at the white mobile home with blue trim. By then, flames were shooting through the roof.

A dispatcher said the home at 9003 High Point Blvd. was reportedly empty, but neighbors told Devorak there was a man inside.

"Sometimes you just don't have time to think," Devorak said Wednesday. "You just do what you got to do."

Clad only in his patrol uniform, Devorak walked through open sliding doors — the screen door had melted — and onto an enclosed lanai. Blinded by smoke, he crouched down, followed the moaning and felt an arm. A man was lying in the threshold of a second set of sliding doors that led into the living room.

Devorak pulled him to the entrance of the lanai, where Bob Kanner, deputy chief of the High Point Volunteer Fire Department, was waiting. As they carried the man to the yard, explosions sounded from inside the house.

"It's amazing what he walked into," Kanner said of Devorak. "He's a hero."

Other than a slight burn on his hand, Devorak was not injured.

No one else was inside the house. James Farrell, 63, was flown to Tampa General Hospital, where he was treated for burns and smoke inhalation. He was in fair condition Wednesday, a hospital spokeswoman said.

The fire destroyed the home. On Wednesday, a blackened box spring in what had been a bedroom sat on exposed, charred floor joists.

Investigators suspect that Farrell set the fire, a sheriff's spokeswoman said. The state fire marshal was investigating the case as an arson.

The news that Farrell might have set the fire surprised Fred Reuther, who has owned the home since 2006. Reuther of Spring Hill said Farrell's father rented the house for about five years, then Farrell took his place.

Reuther said Farrell was a good-natured guy who paid his rent and didn't cause problems.

"He's had an awful lot of health issues, but he's always been the type who bounces back," Reuther said.

Kanner said Farrell owes his life to Devorak.

"Without a doubt, he would not be here today," Kanner said.

Law enforcement is a second career for Devorak, 55. He retired after working for 32 years as a steward for the Teamsters on Long Island and came to Hernando County because his parents lived here. Both did citizen ride-alongs with deputies.

"My father was in love with this agency," Devorak said.

The elder Devorak lived just long enough to see his son graduate from the police academy and put on a deputy's uniform for the first time.

That was about five years ago. On Wednesday, Devorak stood in front of a row of television cameras at the Sheriff's Office and insisted that doing his job doesn't make him a hero.

"I wouldn't expect anything less from any deputy in this department," he said.

News researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.

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