(WASHINGTON, IN) - A local Washington teenager is being hailed as a hero after getting a badly burned man away from his blazing home.
Around 3:45 p.m. on Oct. 27, the rented home of Dan and Linda Neukam, on County Road 225E, Washington, exploded with Dan inside.
Neighbor Vicky Theroff heard the boom and saw smoke and the roof falling in. Vicky said she grabbed her sons, 16-year-old Nick Gaines, and 8-year-old Jake Theroff, and drove to the Neukams' home, where they discovered the windows blown out and the door blown off. The metal roof had erupted into the air and crashed back down onto the home.
Danny Neukma was in his truck. Nick jumped out to check on him and had his mother call 911. Because she had no signal she had to drive down the road. When she returned Nick was trying to get Dan away from the inferno. The severely burned man told Nick where the propane tank was, and he shut it off. Nick got Dan across the road where he held him down because he kept trying to go back into the house to grab his belongings.
"Nick got him across the road and stayed with him," Vicky said. "He kept trying to get back in the house and Nick wouldn't let him." According to Nick, Dan wanted to salvage anything he could and dazedly kept trying to pick things up. He'd been trying to move his pickup away from the flames, but his keys were in the fire.
It only took firefighters minutes to arrived but the underground home was fully engulfed. Firefighters dragged the pickup out of the way before Dan was taken to the hospital.
A gas leak caused the explosion according to Harrison Township Fire Chief Rhett Williams, Gary's brother. Nick probably saved (Dan's) life by getting him out of the truck and away from the fire, says Williams. "It says a lot for a young man of his age to do something like that, to step up and try to help his neighbor."
Gary was so impressed with Nick's composure in the face of the flames and Neukam's severe burns, as well as his bravery in shutting off the propane tank, that he went to Washington High School and sang the teen's praises to the administration.
When Nick was helping Dan - his little brother saved the family dog, who was found running around outside the burning home.
Dan told firefighters that when he came into the house he smelled gas. They had just had the propane tank filled, so he went to check the furnace. When he opened the door to the furnace room, it exploded. He said everything in the house was on fire.
Dan suffered burned skin from his hands to his elbows. It singed his hair and mustache, and it burned his nose and throat, but not his lungs. Dan was able to crawl out of the burning rubble. He was taken to Louisville Burn Center and kept under sedation for a few days and was gradually brought out of it earlier last week. He is probably looking at several skin graft surgeries. He's gonna make it, but he's got some severe burns and rehab ahead of him, according to Dan's daughter Susan Barley.
Nick's family has been at the property trying to save anything salvageable. Nick, a cadet seaman at Washington High School plans to enlist in the Marines and perhaps become a firefighter after graduation. Nick says he was just doing what his head told him to do.
The family has no insurance. Dan is retired from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, and Linda is a security guard posted at Indiana Power and Light in Petersburg. Contributions may be mailed in care of Susan Barley, 2406 Wayside Drive, Washington, IN 47501. Checks should be made out to Linda Neukam.
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