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Trio rescues man from fire

Firefighters work to contain fires that broke out Monday afternoon as a result of an explosion on the 1300 block of Pennsylvania Avenue in Tyrone. Mirror photo by Dan Isenberg

TYRONE — One person died Monday afternoon in the gas-leak explosion and fire on the 1300 block of Pennsylvania Avenue in Tyrone, but another would have died in the house next door that also burned, if not for the efforts of two neighbors and a man who apparently had been about to pass by on a motorcycle.

Aaron Clark, 27, and Matthew Butz, 35, live three doors north of the house that exploded and two doors away from the house where Ed Patterson lived.

Patterson uses oxygen and a wheelchair, according to Clark and Butz, who spoke Tuesday after a neighbor identified them as the pair who rescued Patterson.

Butz had just finished a phone conversation with his mother Monday.

Clark was sleeping when Butz heard the explosion — which he at first attributed to a dump truck that struck a rut.

He lost that thought when Clark’s girlfriend came running up the stairs screaming, which sent both men out to the street, where chaos had begun to unfold.

It became clear immediately that they needed to get people to safety, they said.

Their next door neighbor, who uses a wheelchair, was already on her porch with her home-care helper, and they told them both to get down and get away.

The man who’d been on the motorcycle — whose identity they don’t know — was outside Patterson’s house, looking for others to help get Patterson to safety.

So Clark and Butz went into Patterson’s house, which felt like an oven, they said, due to the fire that had started to burn next door in the house that exploded.

Patterson not only uses a wheelchair and oxygen, but he’s a big man, according to Clark and Butz.

Clark pulled Patterson off his living room recliner and “threw” him into the wheelchair, and he and the man who’d arrived on the motorcycle began taking him to the door, while Butz followed Patterson’s oxygen line to a room where there were approximately 16 oxygen bottles lined up against the wall.

He was hoping to retrieve one to make it better for Patterson outside.

But flames from next door had begun to blacken the window in that wall and to rise above it, while creeping in through the perimeter of the window opening, Butz said.

Realizing that “oxygen tanks and fire don’t mix” — or mix all too well — and realizing that ambulances would be outside that could supply the oxygen for Patterson, Butz decided to forget about that, and went to help the other two.

All three men carried Patterson down the front steps.

As they did so, a man who’d escaped the house next door — the one that had exploded — appealed to them to help get a woman who lived there out.

But the explosion had collapsed the front and the house was engulfed in flames, Clark and Butz said.

They had to tell the man — who was later taken to the hospital — that they couldn’t go in, they said.

“It beats me up inside,” Butz said of their inability to help the woman. “We didn’t have enough time.”

It wasn’t frightening to be in Patterson’s house, said Butz, a Marine who experienced combat while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2005 and 2007.

“It had to (be) done,” he said of the rescue.

Later Monday, after Patterson returned from the hospital, he saw the men and thanked them, acknowledging that if they hadn’t helped, he wouldn’t have made it out, Clark said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 814-949-7038.

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