SALEM, Ill. (KMOV) - A 70-year-old Air Force veteran is being called a hero after he rushed into an Illinois house that was on fire and helped his two neighbors escape the flames.
Marshall Helm, a 70-year-old Air Force veteran and cancer patient, had no idea the danger he’d face seconds later when he walked his granddaughter to the bus stop Wednesday morning.
“Bus driver hung out the door, and he tried to get my attention. He said, ‘Fire, fire, fire.’ And I looked over here, and sure enough, I saw a fire coming through that window,” Helm said.
Helm immediately ran to his neighbors' house and pushed open a side door to the garage. That was where the fire had started, and it was growing fast.
The 70-year-old then went into the home, looking for the owners.
“I was hollering, ‘Fire, fire, we need to get out of here. Anybody in here?’” Helm said.
Gary and Kathy Benjamin were in bed at the time and awoke to Helm’s shouting. They say they were disoriented and confused, but they got up and followed the shouts into the hallway.
“The next thing I know, I hear someone, and it was our neighbor, which I didn’t know at the time. He was yelling, ‘Fire, fire, get up, get out,’” Gary Benjamin said. “When I got up and walked out, all I saw was flames coming through the wall.”
The door Helm had used to enter the house was now on fire and couldn’t be used as an exit. Instead, all three used a back door to get out safely, despite the Benjamins breathing in a lot of smoke.
“Hero. He’s our angel, our angel of mercy,” Kathy Benjamin said.
Helm said he never considered the risk before rushing into the house to save his neighbors. He knew what was at stake and says he would do it again.
“They could have died, and then… I don’t want to think about it,” he said.
The Benjamins lost nearly everything in the fire. A GoFundMe has been set up to help them recover.
The fire department classified the cause of the fire as unknown, but it’s believed there were some baby chickens in the garage with a heat lamp keeping them warm. It’s believed the lamp, which wasn’t secure, fell over and caused the fire.