Local boy honored for bravery during house fire

By: Jessica Strachan | Southfield Sun | Published February 6, 2013

SOUTHFIELD — Ten-year-old Andrew Palmer says it was like a dream.

He woke up at around 5 a.m. that morning in 2011 surrounded by smoke and dancing flames in the bedroom he shared with his younger brother.

“There was a lot of fire. It was really close to a campfire,” the Bingham Farms Elementary School fifth-grader said. “I thought I was dreaming.”

Palmer, then nine years old, felt the heat rushing toward him and knew he was awake and it was a real-life emergency.

“The first thing I did was get out of my bed and ran to tell my mom so we could wake up my brothers and sister,” he said. “I was scared, but then I tried not to show it.”

Jann Palmer, Andrew’s mom, said her son really doesn’t understand the magnitude of his actions and how important it was that he woke her up when the smoke detector failed to go off that morning, but now the Webelos Scout has an official honor that reminds him of how “cool” it was to save his family, he said.

On Jan. 16, Andrew was recognized with the Boy Scouts of America Heroism Award at a ceremony that took place in his school.

Leader of Cub Scout Pack 1049, Dennis Bashur, explained that it’s a national award that is only given by the approval of the Boy Scouts of America National Court of Honor. Andrew was also given a Tribute Award by Southfield Mayor Brenda Lawrence, which was presented by Fire Chief Keith Rowley.

Rowley was a battalion chief when the Aug. 2 fire happened in 2011. He even remembers responding to the home in the 20000 block of Beechaven, he said.

“It was a bad fire. They were out of the house for a number of months,” Rowley said. “Andrew is a pretty remarkable young man. He kept his cool and did absolutely everything right to get his family out of the house. If it weren’t for his actions, things could have turned out a lot differently for his family. This is something he should be very proud of.”

Jann said it was determined that the fire started from an electrical outlet in the room Andrew shared with his younger brother. Her husband was at work when the fire started, so she said it was up to her and Andrew to wake up his 15-year-old and 6-year-old brothers and 16-year-old sister.  

“He was calm, he wasn’t crying, he wasn’t hysterical,” she said. “Andrew just came into my room and told me his room was on fire. If we had waited until the smoke detectors had gone off, there would have definitely been some injuries. By that time, his bed was on fire.”

The Palmer family safely made it out of their home that morning in order to call 911 from the neighbor’s house. The house they lived in for nearly 17 years was uninhabitable after the fire.

The family spent nine months living with family and then in a rental property while their house was gutted and restored from the smoke and water damage, Jann explained. The following April, they were able to move back into a fully redone house, with a brand new bedroom for Andrew and his siblings.

“We still love our home. It’s so nice, to be able to go home and say, ‘This is our home,’” Jann said. While the kids’ childhood collections of books and many other items were unsalvageable, she added that pictures and other valuables were saved from the fire.

“The whole family is very proud of (Andrew), and this all stemmed from what he’s learned as a Cub Scout, talking about what you’d do in case of a fire,” she said. 

Andrew, who says “right now” he wants to be an architect when he grows up, can recite all the procedures for what someone should do to safely escape a fire or even if their clothing catches on fire, though thankfully it didn’t come down to the latter.

He meekly says “yes,” that he’s proud of himself, though this Scout of five years is mostly interested in what else he’ll learn when he becomes a Boy Scout next year.

“There’s so many really fun activities you get to do. You learn, but you do it in a fun way. That’s why I like it so much.”