7-year-old rouses sleeping family in time to escape burning home

Nick Shepherd • Jun 1, 2013 at 8:46 PM

KINGSPORT — When 7-year-old Journey Williams woke up in the early morning hours of May 9, she was having a hard time seeing. The numbers on her cable box weren’t as bright, and that made her think something was wrong.

She tried to wake up her mom, Lacy Freeman, but her mom wasn’t responding. Finally, Journey managed to wake up Freeman’s boyfriend, who immediately realized the house was on fire.

“It was too smoky for him to find his phone to call 911,” Freeman said. “So he proceeded to find where the fire was, and our only door in and out of the house was on fire.”

When Freeman’s boyfriend realized that, he began trying to put the fire out while yelling out her name. But Freeman wouldn’t wake up. She said she was probably on the edge of consciousness because his voice sounded very far away, almost like an echo.

There were two other children in the house besides Journey, her 3-year-old brother and her 10- month-old baby brother. When Freeman finally woke, it was the most traumatic experience of her life.

She was disoriented and confused. She felt for Journey and they eventually made their way back to Journey’s room. A dresser stood in the way, and Freeman thought to herself, how am I going to move this dresser? But adrenaline kicked in and she threw the dresser across the room, she said.

Journey got out the window and Freeman handed the baby out to her. She went back to get her 3-year-old, but her boyfriend had gotten the flames down enough to grab him and get out the door. From the time she woke to the time the family got out was a minute and a half, but it felt like a lifetime.

Freeman thinks it was a miracle they got out of the house.

“It was the scariest thing I’ve ever been through in my life,” she said. “It really was. To look and know the only door in and out of your house is on fire.”

The family had three smoke detectors, but none of them were working because all of the batteries in them were dead.

“If a family does not have a working fire alarm, chances are they won’t make it out,” said Barry Brickey, public education officer for the Kingsport Fire Department.

Brickey said a working smoke alarm doubles the chances of getting out alive. This is because smoke puts you into a deeper sleep and a smoke alarm would be able to jolt someone awake.

The fire department offers two types of fire alarms, ionization and photoelectric. Ionization fire alarms are good for fast burning fires while photoelectric are good for slow burning or smoldering fires, Brickey said.

There is a program in place that will help low-income families receive a smoke alarm for no charge. That is possible through a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The KFD will also check out smoke alarms for anybody if a problem arises.

Brickey said the leading cause of fire is cooking, but the leading cause of death from fires is smoking and smoking materials.

Freeman beat the odds.

Not only were the smoke detectors dead, but the fire was allegedly caused by a cigarette that came from outside the home.

One of the most devastating things for the family was going back inside the home the next day to clean up.

“There were black hand prints all over our house from where we were trying to find our way through,” Freeman said. “It was really sad to see ... you know you’ve got little hand prints from her and then you’ve got bigger hand prints ... where we were feeling our way trying to get out.”

There was not a lot of fire damage but there was a lot of smoke damage. Freeman and her family have already moved into a new home thanks to the help of family, she said.

There are some lingering psychological issues for the family. Journey is having a hard time with it. Freeman is going to ask Journey’s doctor if she can talk to someone to try and help her.

Freeman now says she checks to make sure her smoke alarm is working and has a fire escape plan in place. She thinks it would be good if everybody had a plan and practiced it.

But she still believes divine intervention made her daughter a hero.

“The doctor said if it wasn’t for her, they said it was a miracle we were alive, they said had she not woke up we would have slept right through it and smoke inhalation would have got us,” Freeman said. “They said it was a miracle from God that she woke up, and it is.”

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