Dover fire victim thanks ‘real heroes’ for saving her life

Sarah Butler was displaced from a Dover fire and she is currently residing at Residence Inn in Dover. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — In a matter of minutes one night this March, Sarah Butler’s life became “a horrible nightmare.”

She discovered her house on Artis Drive, west of Dover, had caught fire just after 9 p.m. on March 28. Suddenly, the 83-year-old was searching for clothes as the fire gained strength and spread throughout her ranch home.

Using her walker to help her locate something to wear outside on the chilly night, everything quickly turned black.

“I’ve never saw such dark smoke, and I’ve seen many fires. But I never saw smoke like this, and I was trying to get dressed to get out,” Ms. Butler said recently as she recalled the event.

“I went to my bedroom and the smoke hit me so hard that I couldn’t get in to get any clothes. So I was across the hallway and I thought for sure I could get something out of my daughter’s closet. But when we opened it up, the smoke just hit us.

“I’m handicapped and I could not find my walker so (a fireman) was trying to carry me. We couldn’t see where we were going, and he just kept walking. It was a terrible experience and I thank God for a good fire marshal and a good fire company, because they didn’t hesitate to get me out.”

The Dover Fire Department, with assistance from Camden, Hartly and Marydel’s fire companies, responded to the scene at around 9:15 p.m.

Ms. Butler and her 67-year-old roommate escaped the blaze thanks to the efforts of Dover firefighter Paul Strochine and Assistant Fire Chief David Carey, who helped the victims get out of the burning house.

Ms. Butler and her roommate were both admitted to Bayhealth Hospital, Kent Campus, where they were listed in critical condition after suffering from smoke inhalation. The roommate was later taken to the Crozer-Chester Medical Center in Chester, Pennsylvania, for further treatment before he was released two days later.

Weeks after the harrowing experience, Ms. Butler knew she wanted to track down the firemen who saved her and express her gratitude publicly.

“It was a horrible night because I lost everything — generations of stuff,” said Ms. Butler, “and I thank God for the fire department because it was a fireman who pulled me out and I would not be alive today if he didn’t.

“I would have been dead had it not been for that courageous fireman. He was overcome by the smoke but I’m thankful that he was all right and I want to thank them for saving me because I would have been dead had it not been for that young fireman who came in and pulled me out of the fire.”

The report from the fire said an initial staffed duty crew from the Dover Fire Department entered the front door where they encountered Ms. Butler, who was pulled to safety. She told the firemen there was another person in the house and the crew re-entered the home and was able to locate her roommate, who was also rescued.

Scott Bullock, chief deputy state fire marshal, said the nature of the fire was classified as “accidental.”

“The cause of the fire was an electrical failure in the fixed branch circuitry in the basement of the dwelling,” Mr. Bullock said, noting damages are $75,000.

Ms. Butler said she just felt fortunate that she was surrounded by “real heroes” that evening.

She is currently residing at the Residence Inn by Marriott in Dover while repairs are being made to her home.

“If you think about it, nowadays with the (coronavirus) and everything going on, they didn’t have to do it. But the fireman grabbed my hands and took me across his shoulder and took me out to the driveway,” she said. “One of them was overtaken by the smoke. I called (after the fire) and he was out of the hospital.”

Looking back on that evening, Ms. Butler said she can’t possibly give enough thanks.

“I think what they did was pretty amazing. It was great,” she said. “Everything inside the house was gone, but they were able to save me and my roommate, and words cannot begin to express how thankful I am to them for that.”