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WEST CHESTER — Daniel “DJ” Matthews was walking home from the Fame Fire Company in West Chester around 4:30 a.m. on March 6 when he heard smoke alarms going off nearby.
Matthews decided to take a quick look at the end of his block when he discovered a neighbor’s house had caught fire.
“I went up to the front porch and looked through the window and saw smoke throughout the entire house,” he said.
Matthews quickly called 911 and, as a five-year volunteer at Fame, did a “scene size-up,” where he scoped around the house to see what he could make out.
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That size-up showed the fire to be in the kitchen and with a television on in another room, alerted Matthews to the possibility of somebody being inside, so he immediately jumped into action.
Dressed in just regular street clothes, Matthews went inside the house and found a man asleep in front of the TV. After getting him out of the house, the man informed Matthews of three others on the second floor, which he then went in to also get out.
“That’s when the borough police showed up and I asked him for his fire extinguisher from the car,” Matthews said. “I went back inside and put out the fire and came back out and at that time, the first arriving fire truck pulled up.”
Matthews, 23, ended up doing it all in that short time.
“He was a one-man band there,” said Chief Mike McDonald. “This was all within minutes. The fire trucks hadn’t even arrived yet.”
It was almost a right person at the time situation.
“Timing was everything,” McDonald said. “I would say if he didn’t come across that call, it could have been possible the people could have been significantly injured or have fatalities. Everything lined up just right.”
Matthews, a senior at West Chester University, has been a firefighter since he was 16 in his hometown of Warrington.
Though he’s no stranger to hearing fire alarms going off, the timing of this one is what caused him to take that walk to his neighbor’s home.
“It was odd that at 4:30 in the morning, fire alarms are going off,” he said. “I figured I’d give it a look real quick and go to the end of the block and see if I had anything. I actually started smelling wood burning as I got close.”
Matthews, who is an economics major at WCU and a volunteer 1st class at Fame, was honored by the West Chester Borough Council Tuesday night with a certificate of recognition from Mayor Carolyn Comitta for his actions.
“He’s a model fireman and I’m glad to see the borough recognize him for going above and beyond our regular duties,” McDonald said. “We don’t get paid to do this nonsense. We’re still all 100-percent volunteer around here and it’s good that the guys still have the drive.”
First responders typically shrug off any kind of recognition because to them, it’s just all part of their job to save people.
Even so, there are some times when they deserve the spotlight and, in this case, Matthews deserves every bit of the honor.
“It’s something I don’t ever expect,” he said. “We don’t do it for the recognition or anything like that. We get up in the middle of the night to try and help (people) out. It was a very surreal experience.”