Workman suffers burns pulling four from house fire

TAMPA — A blood-curdling scream echoed through the normally quiet 4300 block of S Thatcher Avenue Saturday morning.

Joe Ynocencio, 31, a senior technician with an air-conditioning company, dropped his tools and ran out of the house where he was working to find out where it came from.

"If somebody screams 'Help me,' you go help them," he later said. "That's just what you're supposed to do."

Tampa Fire Rescue said what he did next was remarkable. Ynocencio pulled two people from a burning house at 4319 S Thatcher Ave., scorching his arm in the process.

Firefighters are calling him a hero.

He said he's just a regular guy. "Everyone's making a big deal about it. It's just what we do," he said.

The fire broke out about 10 a.m. Ynocencio was working on a heater two doors down when he heard the scream and ran to help, said Tampa Fire Rescue.

He knocked on the door. When no one answered he forced his way in, tying a shirt around his face so he could breathe, he said.

Though he has never been in a fire before, the former Marine said he was trained to help extract people from dangerous situations. But he could barely see. "Everything from the waist up was smoke," he said. "The flames were on the ceiling."

He found 56-year-old Graciela Verdugo inside the front door and helped her to safety, rescuers said. She said her "babies'' were inside, and the "old man" was in the back.

Ynocencio said he thought of his three elementary school-age daughters and went back inside.

He helped Verdugo's 22-year-old son, Mario Verdugo, and his girlfriend, 20-year-old Stephanie O'Keefe, find their way out.

Then he went back a third time and opened French doors at the back of the house to find the last person. The doors burned his arm, he said.

There he found 60-year-old Joel Henderson, who uses a walker. He slipped Henderson's arm around his neck, grabbed his waistband and pulled him toward the front door.

Firefighters arrived soon after and put the fire out in about 20 minutes. Ynocencio stayed with the family for 45 minutes and then returned to his repair jobs — delayed but determined to finish them all Saturday.

Verdugo, her son and Ynocencio had minor burns but were not hospitalized.

A fire marshal's investigator said the blaze began on a sofa on the back porch, where someone had been smoking. Saturday's brisk winds seemed to have fanned the flames.

The American Red Cross was helping the family find a temporary place to stay.

Damage was estimated at about $70,000

Ynocencio of Tampa said his wife asked him why he had done it. The Brandon native and 1997 Bloomingdale High School graduate said it's just a part of who he is. Before he joined the Marines in 1998, he wanted to be a firefighter.

"It's why I do air conditioning. I love helping people," he said.

Workman suffers burns pulling four from house fire 11/06/10 [Last modified: Saturday, November 6, 2010 10:55pm]

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