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Grandson helps Kingsport woman escape burning home

KEVIN CASTLE • Feb 22, 2007 at 10:48 AM

Aaron Estep, 13, holds his grandmother, Irene Shipley, in front of her Dale Street home as they look over scorched belongings in her yard. Aaron pulled his grandmother from the house when it caught fire on Feb. 5. Erica Yoon photo.


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KINGSPORT - A hand-sketched portrait of her daughter and grandson made in a New Orleans square, gone. Precious family pictures and her Jeff Gordon memorabilia, destroyed.

Yet Irene Shipley still manages a smile as she pats the shoulder of the grandson who pulled her from a burning house Feb. 5.

"Yeah, I've lost a lot and some of it will never be replaced, but nothing can replace Bubby. He's my hero," Shipley said, her voice filled with emotion.

Word of 13-year-old Aaron Estep's heroism has already reached Kingsport City Hall and the statehouse in Nashville, but he shrugs it off, obviously a little shy from the fuss being made over him.

Aaron and his grandmother are alive today thanks to a lesson in fire safety he learned in elementary school.

"The first thing that came to my mind was to get low. I remembered that from school," said Aaron, who awoke to a fire-and-smoke filled bedroom that night.

The wall between his room and the living room had caught fire.

Aaron crawled from his room into his grandmother's bedroom and told her to "stay low" and not to try to get up into the smoke.

"That is where most people panic in those types of situations, which can cause someone to expire because of the immense smoke that is in the house at that point," said Kingsport Fire Department Public Information Officer Barry Brickey. "But Aaron was so brave and so smart to put those steps he learned into action, he is worthy of being called a hero."

Once outside, Shipley began to panic because in all of the confusion, smoke and fire personnel, she had lost Aaron in the shuffle.

"I was upset because I thought he may have tried to go back in and save the dogs that I had inside," said Shipley, who lost all five of her pets in the blaze.

The fire apparently was caused by wall heaters.

Some neighbors had taken Aaron inside, out of the freezing temperatures, to get him into some clothes.

Both Aaron and his grandmother were taken to Holston Valley Medical Center, where they were kept a few days for treatment for smoke inhalation.

Brickey said he told the story of Aaron's bravery at a Tennessee Fire Marshal's Office meeting, where he was applauded, and then told the story to the Kingsport Board of Mayor and Aldermen, where Aaron was also given high praise.

"I think Aaron's work to save his grandmother goes back to the way we teach school students fire safety," said Brickey.

"We make it simple and fun, and this story tells us that those facts and directions stay with them. We don't do it for the gratification. We do those things to save lives, and Aaron did that."

A special account has been set up in Shipley's name at Am South Bank branches in the Tri-Cities where people can contribute donations for her rebuilding efforts. She estimates they will cost $16,000.

The Pub in Kingsport, where Shipley has worked on and off for 20 years, is also planning a benefit auction and bake sale on March 11 beginning at 2 p.m.

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