Bartender makes daring rescue

Dustin Harper was with friends at Original Joe’s, in downtown Red Deer, when someone told them the building next door was on fire.

Dustin Harper

Dustin Harper was with friends at Original Joe’s, in downtown Red Deer, when someone told them the building next door was on fire.

It was shortly after midnight on Thursday and the three-storey structure at 4712 51st Ave. had smoke and flames shooting from the roof.

Harper and one of his friends ran upstairs and started banging on the door. His friend left and then the other tenant came and helped Harper bang on the door.

“I ran in and the lady was just getting out of bed, like she was just getting up,” Harper said. “I ran in and I yelled, ‘Your house is on fire. You’ve got to get out.’ ”

A room close by was burning and the apartment was already starting to fill with smoke.

Dorothy Sparks, 55, had just woken up. She was searching for her glasses and found them in the bathroom.

“I scooped her up — because she was in her socks — so I picked her up and started running out and the embers are coming down,” Harper said.

His friend was yelling at the bottom of the stairs, “Get out, get out, the roof’s coming down.”

Embers and chunks from the roof fell around them as they made their escape.

All of the residents in the apartments got out safely and no one was injured in the blaze, said Dave Harvey, communications lieutenant with Red Deer Emergency Services.

The fire started somewhere in the series of apartments attached to the west end of the Red Deer Native Friendship Society building at 4712 51st Ave. The Street Ties Youth Outreach program sits below the apartments on the first floor.

Red Deer Emergency Services crews arrived shortly after midnight and worked until about 7 a.m. to put the fire out and clean up the area. Four engine companies, two aerial platform units and an ambulance, along with an incident commander, a chief officer, a fire investigator and 28 fire-medics were on the scene fighting the flames.

“The fire-medics did an excellent job at this scene, worked very hard, very aggressively, very safely and brought this fire under control within a couple of hours,” Harvey said.

The three-storey building suffered extensive damage. The second- and third-storey windows were smashed out, the frames blackened and a portion of the roof had collapsed on the third floor. The Red Deer Native Friendship Society had charred debris on the floor and a hole in the ceiling, where insulation hung down.

“I would say the building is structurally unsound and will probably have to be removed from the site,” Harvey said.

Two Red Deer Emergency Services fire investigators were on scene in downtown Red Deer on Thursday trying to determine the cause of the blaze. An estimate of the cost of the damage isn’t yet known.

Sparks has lost almost everything but she is thankful to be alive.

“(Dustin) got me out and I’m thankful for that. I want to thank Dustin for saving my life,” said Sparks on Thursday afternoon.

Sparks is also grateful to one of the fire-medics at the scene who went into her apartment and retrieved her purse, some photographs and her makeup bag once the fire was extinguished. She had the photos scattered around the hotel room, where she was staying on Thursday afternoon, trying to dry them out.

Harper shrugs off any suggestion that he is a hero. The bartender at Original Joe’s said he has never done something like that before, but he knew someone was in there and would have felt sick to his stomach if he didn’t go in after her.

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