Firefighter calls victim #8216;true hero#8217;

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 3, 2006

BURLINGTON — South Point volunteer firefighter Ryan Tipton has seen a lot in his five years on the job.

But Tipton counts a local teen’s tragic attempt to save his sister’s life as the most heroic he’s ever seen.

Tipton was the first on the scene Saturday night at a blaze at an apartment complex at just off County Road 1 in Burlington. Although fire crews from the Burlington-Fayette Volunteer Fire Department were enroute just minutes after they were dispatched, Tipton said he knew the building’s residents were in great danger and that he needed to do something immediately. Shortly after he accessed the situation, he fought his way into the apartment — one of three in the complex — where the fire originated and was raging out of control.

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What happened next is something that Tipton says “burns in his memory.”

Tipton pulled John Lawrence, 17, who was alert and conscious, out of the building and took him to safety. Tipton then went back inside in an attempt to save the teen’s older sister, Kendra Eback, 26, but he could not get into the apartment because the flames had taken over.

That’s when Lawrence took over and ran into the apartment to try to save his sister. Both Lawrence and Eback were found dead a short time later.

Tipton suffered smoke inhalation and was taken to King’s Daughters Medical Center, where he was told of the siblings’ deaths.

“I was in shock. It’s just awful that they had to die like that. I just wish I could’ve done more,” the 25-year-old South Point resident said. “It has just been overwhelming.”

Although his attempts to save Lawrence and Eback were in vain, Tipton said he does not regret what he did, and he does not want any kind of recognition for his efforts.

“If you wouldn’t be willing to go in there and risk your life for someone else, there’s no need to be a firefighter,&uot; Tipton said.

He said Lawrence deserves to be deemed a hero for being so unselfish and brave.

“You have to respect him,” Tipton said. “The building was completely gone, it was just blazing, and he went in there anyway and and gave his life for her. It’s just beautiful, what he did for his sister is beautiful.”

Tipton said he still trying to recover from his injuries, both physical and emotional.

He said it was an “unbelievable coincidence” that he was even in the area at the time of the fire. Tipton was on his way to get gas after visiting a friend at AJ’s Pizza, he said, when he spotted the fire and called 911.

Tipton has been a firefighter for more than five years, he said, but has never been the first on the scene at any emergency, he said, “except maybe a fender-bender.”

Tipton said he had never experienced a death or personal injury at a fire until Saturday’s blaze, either.