ENGLEWOOD — About a decade ago Jack Sulfridge of Englewood was enjoying an afternoon riding his motorcycle on North Dixie Drive on Halloween when an unlicensed 16-year-old male turned left directly in front of him from an oncoming lane.
Sulfridge hit the car broadside and sustained multiple injuries, including a severely damaged shoulder, back and knee injuries. He wonders how, or even why he survived that crash. Just like the theme to the movie ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ he learned why God kept him around instead of letting him die on that fateful Halloween, which proved to be one of the scariest days of his life. The movie stressed the importance of each person’s presence on Earth and how their life affects so many others.
While working in his backyard on Michelle Court in Englewood on July 29 Sulfridge detected an odor of something burning while cleaning his hot tub.
“I kept smelling something electrical, like something was smoking. It kept getting worse and I started looking around and smelled the hot tub to make sure it wasn’t frying or something,” Sulfridge said.
He then thought it might be his pickup truck as it had been experiencing a few mechanical problems lately.
“I started looking at our house and l looked over at our neighbor’s house and smoke was just rolling out of their attic vent and out the top of their chimney. I said, ‘Crap! Fred’s house is on fire!’ I took off and went out front and his daughter Heidi was sitting on the porch stoop and I could tell she was a little dazed,” he said.
Sulfridge noticed she had the front door open with smoke rolling out. He went over and asked if she had called 911 and she said that she hadn’t. Sulfridge immediately called 911 and noted that one of his neighbor’s cars was in the driveway and asked Heidi Garman where her mom was. She told him she thought she was inside. He asked if their five Boston terriers were with her and she replied that she thought so.
Sulfridge tried to enter the home to get upstairs but the smoke was too intense. He started calling out Carolyn Garman’s name but there was no response.
“Naturally you just think the worst when no one is answering and I couldn’t get up the stairs to get to the bedroom because the fire was in the kitchen and I could see it going,” Sulfridge recounted.
The bedroom was on the other end of the house and cut off by the fire and smoke, so he thought he might be able to get into the home by entering through the back door. He jumped over the Garman’s fence and found the back door unlocked, but when he opened it smoke poured out. He kept calling out Carolyn’s name and couldn’t see through the smoke.
“I had never seen smoke in a house fire before. It was just kind of like a cloud that was levitating, so I bent down to try and see underneath it to see where the stairs were and I saw all of the dogs in the family room by the stairway,” he said. “They were trying to get up the stairway but they couldn’t.”
Sulfridge flew into action by crawling beneath the cloud of smoke, which was no easy task as he has had both kneecaps replaced with prosthetic ones from his motorcycle accident. He pulled his shirt up over his mouth and went in.
“I saw them and said to myself, I’m not going to let them die from smoke inhalation,” Sulfridge said as no fire personnel had arrived yet. “Usually the dogs are arguing with each other but this time they were all huddled together in one spot leaning up against each other. Usually one of the dogs will run from me but they just stood there looking at me so I was able to grab all five.”
He gathered up all five dogs and brought them outside and brought them over to his garage for safekeeping, but the one that usually runs from him got loose. He ran back to the Garman’s house when an Englewood Police officer arrived. He told the officer that he got the five dogs out of the house but that there was woman trapped inside.
The Englewood officer tried to get up the stairs but couldn’t due to the heat and smoke. Sulfridge tried to enter the house through the back door again, but by that time the fire had gotten worse.
The fire department arrived within two minutes and eventually after repeated questioning the Garman’s daughter, still dazed by smoke, eventually realized neither of her parents were home and were actually together on a trip out of state.
“Here we were trying to save someone from a burning house, but in a situation like that instinct takes over and you don’t think about your own safety. Luckily she wasn’t home,” Sulfridge said. “That would have been a bad situation.”
Fred and Carolyn Garman are grateful that Sulfridge was able to rescue their dogs and that he made sure their daughter was OK.
“Those dogs are like their kids. They love them so much,” Sulfridge added. “I’m just glad it all turned out for the best.”
No doubt the Garman’s dogs are glad Sulfridge was there that day to rescue them from the fire so that they too can continue to enjoy a wonderful life.