Eight-year-old Tyler Doohan will be laid to rest on Wednesday as the most honored of honorary firefighters, saluted by his local fire company as one of its own who made the supreme sacrifice in the line of duty.
“This kid should be thought of as a true hero who lost his life,” Chief Chris Ebmeyer of the volunteer Penfield Fire Company outside Rochester, N.Y., said on Friday.
Ebmeyer reported that Tyler had been sleeping at the front of his grandfather’s house trailer early on the morning of January 20, when he awoke to see flames. The boy managed to rouse six other people and get to them to safety, including an aunt and two other children, aged 4 and 6.
Tyler then heard calls for help and realized that his disabled grandfather and step-great-grandfather were still inside. Tyler had a particular bond with the grandfather, who was the kind of guy who was always quick to assist a neighbor or to help somebody in need even though he did not have all that much himself. The grandfather, 54-year-old Steven Smith, had lost part of a leg and got around in a wheelchair or on crutches.
The aunt tried to hold Tyler, but he broke free and dashed back inside the 14-by-60 foot metal trailer, which had become a kind of huge oven. The heat was just mounting to the point at which the flammable material inside the trailer suddenly ignited in an instantaneous inferno known as a flashover.
The aunt tried to go after the boy, but the fire drove her back. The first of the first responders arrived and sought to gain entry through the rear. He, too was forced to retreat.
“Impossible,” Ebmeyer later said.
The other firefighters who arrived could only battle the blaze from the outside.
“Untenable,” Ebmeyer recalled.
Once the flames were knocked down, the firefighters entered to find Tyler in the back, having managed to get within a few feet from the bed where his grandfather lay. His step-great-grandfather, 57-year-old Louis Beach, was also found dead, on the incinerated remnants of what might have been a sofa.
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