Neighbor alerts family to fire
03/22/2011
The Daily Times

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Princess Anne -- From Baltimore to Crisfield, there's nothing short of praise for ECI Sgt. James Jeeter, declared a hero for pulling five victims from a fire to safety.

What started as a routine morning Down Neck became all but ordinary the moment Jeeter glanced at the house next door and saw flames sparking in an upstairs window.

It was about 6 a.m. March 12, and Jeeter was en route from his Lawsonia Road home in the "Down Neck" section of Crisfield to his job at Eastern Correctional Institution in nearby Westover.

Instead, the uniformed sergeant jumped from his vehicle and charged into the burning house next door to alert five occupants including three teenagers and a grandmother. No one was seriously injured, and most occupants escaped on their own.

Jeeter carried out the grandmother.

"The house was fully involved, and five people were in the house at the time," said Dan Harrison, a retired Somerset County Sheriff's Office deputy who was at the fire scene photographing the blaze for the Crisfield Fire Department. "I imagine fire was shooting up 30 feet. Jeeter went in."

The property owner, Cynthia Lowe, was treated at a hospital for minor burns and released, and the American Red Cross helped to lodge the displaced family, authorities said, adding that the cause was "careless smoking."

Structure and content damage to the two-story frame house, on the 3360 block of Lawsonia Road, was estimated by the Office of the Maryland Fire Marshal at a total of $200,000.

Community members and colleagues at ECI called Jeeter a hero.

Assistant Warden Robert Hanke said Jeeter's actions were a reflection of his character: "Sgt. Jeeter is one of our go-to people around here."

"What's most amazing is he reported to work on time as though nothing had happened," Hanke said. "We're proud to work with a real hero."

Jeeter, a 25-year veteran in corrections and parent of three children, lives next door to the burned home with his wife, April. He recalled the incident.

"I kicked the door in, started screaming, 'fire, fire,' " he said. "Two boys come running from upstairs, their faces covered with soot. Then the mother came running out. I picked up (the grandmother) and carried her out.

"After that, I made it to work," Jeeter said. "I had to drive a little faster, and I smelled like smoke."