‘Two explosions, big ones’: Military veterans rescue woman from burning home in Valdese

In the face of danger, two former service members jumped into action to save a woman from a burning home.
‘Two explosions, big ones’: Military veterans rescue woman from burning home in Valdese
Published: Nov. 10, 2021 at 5:17 PM EST
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Firefighters say flames ripped into a mobile home in the town of Valdese, and if it wasn’t for the quick action of neighbors, who happen to be military veterans, this could have had a tragic ending.

“I don’t know if they would have gone another 15, 30 seconds,” said Donnie Smart.

The fire burned so hot and so fast, smoke was still coming from the ashes 24 hours later.

“It was well involved when it came out,” firefighter Kelly Michaels said.

Flames igniting multiple oxygen canisters sent emergency crews diving for cover.

“Two explosions, big ones. As soon as it happened I knew what they were, I knew what they were,” Thomas Frank, one of the heroes of that day told WBTV’s Ron Lee.

As the flames consumed the mobile home in Valdese, the call for help went out.

But firefighters were nearly 10 minutes away.

“In a couple more minutes, by the time of our arrival, could have been, it could have been potentially fatal,” firefighter James Deal said.

Neighbors, seeing the danger the trapped woman was in, jumped into the fray to help.

“That’s an amazing thing to see someone risk their own lives when they don’t have to,” firefighters said.

But these weren’t just ordinary citizens, they were soldiers.

“Anytime there’s a need, we’re going to be there and meet that need,” they said.

Donnie Smart is a Marine who worked in Special Ops. He was raking leaves in front of his house when he heard the trapped woman scream.

Without hesitation, he came running to help.

“You would do the same thing, who wouldn’t help someone especially in situation like that. You just do what’s needed,” Smart said.

Thomas Frank lives just across the street and saw what happened.

He says his training in the 82nd Airborne kicked in.

“I’m not going to go in my house and shut the door. That’s crazy. Somebody needs help you go after them and you help them,” Frank said.

Frank says what happened yesterday had some ways helped him atone for past hesitations.

“I froze. I could have saved other people. I froze,” Frank said.

Back in 1994, Frank was at Pope Airforce Base when a cargo plane disaster happened. Twenty-four servicemen were lost. And while he couldn’t save the lives lost, he could at least save this one.

“I could have saved the guy’s life but I didn’t, I was too scared. And yesterday made me feel good. Because that didn’t even cross my mind yesterday. Like redemption, you know?” Frank said.

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