Family grateful to life-saving first responders

By Anthony Antoine |

Published 06/19 2014 04:23PM

Updated 06/19 2014 06:28PM

MATTOON -- A disabled man is rescued from a house fire. Thursday, the family meets one of the firefighters who saved his life. Crews responded Wednesday to Walnut Street. WCIA-3's Anthony Antoine has more.

The fire started as a problem with the refrigerator. It spread to the rest of the kitchen. Authorities say the victim is lucky to be alive.

"I wanted to thank you guys for all that you did."

"That's what we're here for."

"We were so scared because I knew he couldn't get out."

Carol Heldman's son is alive thanks to the actions of Captain Robert Alexander and two other Mattoon firefighters.

"We were told that the person was in the process of getting out of the house. So, we were under the impression they were going to meet us out here," says Captain Alexander.

The victim couldn't make it outside. Both doors were locked. And firefighters could see the flames coming from the side of the house.

"We hit the fire right there. We started to crawl in here and that's when I walked into the walker, about right where that chair is."

Alexander used an infrared camera and directed his team to the victim, James Heldman.

"I said, 'Move to your right and he should be there,' and just as he did, he got him."

"We grabbed him by the shoulders and the legs and dragged him."

It happened so fast, James Heldman never got a chance to say "thank you." Heldman has multiple sclerosis. He called 911 but couldn't get out of his living room.

"I'm really happy."

"I'm really happy to meet you too."

Now the pair is taking time to get to know each other.

"I appreciate the fire department."

And realized they have some things in common.

"My dad, years ago, used to work as a firefighter, says Heldman."

"My dad and your dad were high school classmates," says Alexander.

An intimate friendship, formed quickly in a crisis. A victim holding the same hands which saved his life.

"You look great."

"Thank you."

"It was a tragedy that had a good ending for everybody."

James Heldman received treatment in the hospital for smoke inhalation. The family plans to renovate his house. In the meantime, he'll stay at a nursing home.

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