Firefighters, family reunite nearly a year after house fire

Posted at 9:25 PM, Nov 11, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-11 23:25:14-05

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Fargo, ND (WDAY) — She felt her eyes forcing themselves shut and her breathing constricted. She tried to find her way out of the basement, but couldn’t. Jenny Seward was trapped.

The fire started last year, shortly before 8 a.m. on Dec. 17, 2017, at the Seward family’s North Fargo home, 721 29th St. N. Several family members climbed out a bedroom window to escape but they couldn’t reach Jenny.

When firefighters arrived, flames and smoke were shooting up from the basement staircase. Fargo firefighter Dan Johnson rushed down and found her unconscious. He tried to take her back up the steps but was unsuccessful. Instead, he secured her to a spinal board and worked with firefighter Ty Pearson and several other emergency responders outside to hoist her out a window.

She was taken to Sanford Hospital and immediately flown to the Regions Burn Center in St. Paul, where she was treated for severe burns and damage to her throat and lungs. Jenny spent the next six months in various hospitals and is now undergoing physical, occupational and oxygen therapies.

Johnson and Jenny compared notes about the rescue on Saturday, Nov. 10, when the Seward family visited fire station No. 4 to thank the many firefighters who helped save Jenny, the family, their home and Jenny’s dog, Sophie.

“I don’t remember much about the fire,” she said. “I remember the black smoke and trying to move around the basement.”

The Sewards presented the firefighters with a plaque that states, “God Bless You for all that you do; Thank You is not enough; The Seward Family; December 2017.”

Bette Seward, Jenny’s mother, addressed the firefighters, thanking them for their work.

“There’s no words, we tried different ones, but nothing expresses what you did for us,” she said. “Not only did you save Jenny’s life, you saved all of our lives. Because if Jenny hadn’t made it, I don’t know if I would have had it in me to rebuild my house. And I don’t know if I would have had it in me to take care of my grandkids. But because Jenny made it, we have our house back, we have our grandkids, we’re all a family again. That’s because of you guys.”

The fire marshal ruled the fire accidental, determining it was started when overheating electrical equipment came in contact with combustible material. The house was severely damaged but has since been rebuilt. The Sewards moved back in on July 17.

“It could have been so much worse,” Bette Seward said. “They (firefighters) have to be awfully determined to do what they do all the time. They risked their lives to get her out.”

An hour before the fire started, Bette Seward had gone to work. She said when she left the house, there was no sign of smoke or fire. The way the fire started and spread so quickly surprised the family.

“A fire like that can go up in five minutes,” Capt. Ben Willey told the family.

The Sewards praised the firefighters for their fast arrival and the quality of their work. Firefighters Johnson, Pearson, Jason Forness, Justin Martin, Ben Willey and Matt Buchholz received a letter of commendation in April for their work on the Seward home fire.

Fargo firefighters receive 248 hours of training each year and must undergo eight weeks of 56-hour training before they can step on a truck, said Battalion Chief Joe Mangin. After the Seward fire, the fire department augmented its training to include basement rescues so the firefighters could share their experiences with others in the department.

When the fire ignited last year, it was a week before Christmas. Family members were able to save many of the presents and re-wrap them last year.

“We get to have a Christmas this year; last year, we didn’t get to,” Bette Seward said.