Hero says he had to help
Jan. 8, 2013 — A Susanville resident who reportedly risked his life to help an elderly woman escape from a fiery balcony in the early morning hours of Dec. 31 doesn’t believe he did anything heroic.
But Frank Stevenson, the son of Speed and May Stevenson, the elderly couple in their 80s who lived in the Richmond Road house destroyed by the fire, unabashedly called passerby Mike Morales his family’s “guardian angel … I don’t know how you could describe it in any other way,” a stranger rushing to the aid of an elderly woman “on the back deck of a two-story house that was totally engulfed in flames.”
According to a press release from the Susanville Fire Department, Morales happened to be in the neighborhood, and “With no regard for his own personal safety, Mr. Morales climbed up the balcony, battling extreme heat and smoke conditions and carried the female to safety.”
Morales, a cab driver, a mixed martial arts fighter about to begin a professional fighting career and the grandson of Honey Lake Maidu tribal chairman Ron “Comanche” Morales, downplays his role in saving the woman’s life.
“I guess (it was heroic),” he said stoically. “That’s what they’re saying, but I just happened to be at the right place at the right time. I’m not going to just sit there if someone needs help and not help them, especially in a situation like that. You can’t let something like that happen and not do anything about it. If I can give you a hand, I’ll give you a hand.”
Rudy Valentine, Morales’ coach and trainer at the Iron Horse Gym, said he wasn’t surprised by Morales’ heroism.
“That’s pretty typical of Mike,” Valentine said. “He’s a real warrior. He’s always had that kind of warrior spirit. He’s a good kid, and I’m really proud of him.”
According to Valentine, studying mixed martial arts at the gym gave Morales an opportunity to focus on positive things and get some direction in his life.
“The gym helped him out a lot,” Valentine said. “He’s got a lot of talent and a big heart.”
Frank said his parents were asleep in an upstairs bedroom when they held a loud pop or bang. Speed, an avid sports fan who worked for nearly 40 years on the chain gang at Lassen High School’s home football games, thought an intruder was downstairs, so he slipped on a robe, grabbed his .38 pistol and headed downstairs to investigate.
When Speed got halfway down the stairs, the smoke alarms suddenly went off, smoke billowed up the stairwell and the stairs burst into flames.
Speed returned to his wife and the couple made their way through the thick smoke to another bedroom that had a second-story balcony. Speed said by then the house was filled with smoke.
The railing on the deck was too high for May to climb over, but Speed climbed the railing, got on the roof and then jumped to the bushes and snow below.
“Mind you, he has in a robe, nothing else, and a .38 in his hand,” Frank said, “and he runs around the front of the house to the street. No shoes. In the snow. Four degrees. He jumps the fence (in the front yard), goes out in the road, and a car’s coming down the road. Dad asked him (Morales) to call the police, the fire department, 911 and he did.”
Morales said he had just returned a rental movie and was driving home on Richmond Road when he saw Speed in the street.
“He was just hysterical about things,” Morales said. “I didn’t know why. I didn’t even recognize the house was on fire until he said something.”
But when Morales heard there was a woman trapped in the burning house, he sprang into action without a moment’s hesitation.
“Mike immediately ran to the front door and was ready to kick it in with the flames coming out,” Frank said. “I mean, this man was willing to risk his life, but dad’s screaming at him, ‘Mike, she’s in the back on the deck, she’s on the back deck.’”
Morales and Speed searched for a ladder in the darkened garage, but Morales thought it was taking too long.
“Mike went over to the deck, jumped up, and with his hands did a chin-up,” Frank said. “He pulled himself up onto the second story, grabbed my mother (who was standing barefoot in the snow), lifted her over the railing while dad comes with a six-foot ladder. Mike holds her until she gets her feet on the ladder,” and dad helps her down to the ground.
“It felt like we were wasting too much time (looking for a ladder), so I just climbed up there and helped her down,” Morales said.
According to Morales, the smoke wasn’t so much of a problem on the balcony, “but it was warming up a bit. I didn’t have to take too much smoke in. I shut the door (between the bedroom and the balcony) so the smoke wouldn’t be so thick.”
Mike climbed down and threw his jacket around May. Within seconds officer (Sgt. Richard) Warner arrived on the scene. Mike carried May to the warmth of the police car and Warner put Speed over his back and carried him to the police car before they were transported to the hospital for minor smoke inhalation and treatment of the small scrapes and scratches the couple suffered during their ordeal.
“Everybody at the hospital fed them, clothed them and treated them like family,” Frank said. “I don’t know if there were a thousand 80 year olds if they would have survived that fire. It was a three-alarm fire. It was hot. The house blew up. Where they were (asleep upstairs), the whole room collapsed downstairs.”
Speed said he and his wife wouldn’t have made it if they hadn’t been awakened by the loud pop just before the house filled up with smoke.
“We’re very fortunate,” Speed said. “For one thing, we’re both alive, and we’re so glad we’ve got a son like we do. He came up here, and he’s taken charge of everything. He’s done it all.”
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