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Veteran survives house fire, thanks alarm company and local responders

Rick Wagner • Feb 2, 2018 at 9:45 AM

KINGSPORT — James “Trapper” Arnold of Colonial Heights survived combat zones during an Air Force tour of duty in Vietnam and an Army one in Iraq, only to face death in November from inhaling fumes from a quickly spreading fire in his kitchen.

However, thanks to alarm company ADT, Sullivan County 911 and a local volunteer fire department, he was alive and well at a news conference in the front yard of his under-repair home Thursday morning to say he was saved from certain death from inhaling noxious fumes and to thank those involved in his rescue and its aftermath.

WHAT HAPPENED?

Outside the house sat an in-wall oven and stove top, which he identified as the source of the flames that shot up a kitchen wall, spread quickly and caused so much smoke that he passed out in five to six seconds before a loud alarm siren began to sound. Arnold, as he walked through the kitchen Thursday morning, said that on Nov. 13 he was watching a football game he had recorded earlier and that at 1:22 a.m. he saw the flames and tried to put them out with a fire extinguisher before he passed out.

“The wall next to me burst into flames,” he said.

 The next thing he knew, about five minutes later, he was outside the house after Warriors Path Volunteer Fire Department fireman Steve Peterson had dragged him outside and first responder James Pafford got him breathing well again. Peterson and Pafford came because after Arnold passed out, Rochester, N.Y.-based ADT dispatcher Stacy Fioravanti had been notified of a fire at the home and called Sullivan County 911, which in turn dispatched Warriors Path.

“They said I had probably a minute and a half to live, tops,” Arnold said, crediting the alarm company and local responders with saving his life and house. “Without that (ADT) system, I would have been dead today.”

He also thanked his family for support and care: sister Cheryl Lane; daughter Sabrina Arnold; and granddaughters Alexys Arnold, Brittany Arnold and Kaitlyn Dugger; Air Force buddy Ken Giffin and Army buddy J.P. Scalf, who also live in the Tri-Cities.

His parents bought the house in the late 1960s and he considers it home. When his father died, he bought out his sister’s interest. Born in Maine and growing up in Ohio, where he became an Eagle Scout, Arnold said he has been to 50 countries and all 50 states. He was in a combat unit in Vietnam and was a combat medic in Iraq.

AWARDS, ACCOLADES GIVEN 

In Arnold’s yard Thursday, Fioravanti received ADT’s Life Saver award, its highest honor. Earlier in 2017, she also helped a family in St. Louis to safety after an automobile engine caught their home on fire. She came to meet Arnold in person.

Warriors Path Chief Ben Wexler said $10,000 in donations given the department Thursday — $5,000 each from ADT, presented by ADT Senior Vice President Bobby Dale of Jacksonville, Fla., and State Farm, from agent Lindsey Bolton representing Arnold’s home insurance carrier — will go to replace about-to-expire oxygen bottles for breathing systems.

“This is a picture perfect story. Everything worked,” Wexler said. “At 1:30 in the morning, nobody’s traveling these back roads.” 

Sullivan County Commissioners Mark Bowery and Angie Stanely also attended the news conference, saying that county contributions to volunteer emergency responders is money well spent.

WHAT’S NEXT?

Arnold said the house should be ready for him to move back in sometime this month. State Farm put him up for a few days in a hotel and then in an apartment in Kingsport, where he will stay for the next two or three weeks until the house is ready and his belongings are moved back home. 

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