Passerby alerts woman to fire

Thursday, November 29, 2001

Angie Rinck wasn't the only Southeast Missouri State University student groveling for an extension on a final paper this week.

But when she turned her paper in Wednesday, a day late, she probably had the best excuse: She spent a night saving someone from a burning building.

It was 3:30 a.m. Monday and Rinck, a social-work major from Rolla, Mo., was driving on Emerald Street toward campus in search of a working computer. She noticed a glow to her left.

"I looked over and saw the lady's house on fire," Rinck said. Flames were shooting through the roof of 1038 N. Middle St., home of Helga Adams.

The house was just behind the fire station, so Rinck knocked on the station door first.

However, since the truck bay was between the door where Rinck stood and the dorm where the firefighters were sleeping, they couldn't hear her shouting and pounding.

Rinck dashed back over to the burning house, yelling and thumping on the door. There was no answer, but she could hear a dog barking inside. So she kept trying.

Her persistence paid off.

She woke the neighbors. One, Ricky Norris, was able to wake firefighters by pounding on the side windows. While the firefighters called for backup, Rinck and Norris pounded on doors and windows shouting for Adams to wake up.

Capt. Michael Ramsey, one of the firefighters roused by the shouting, said he looked out a fire station window and saw Adams' roof engulfed in flames. He said Adams probably owes her life to Rinck.

"Truthfully, if she hadn't been driving by, that situation could have turned out tragic," Ramsey said.

Adams was exhausted. A certified nursing assistant, she had worked a 12-hour shift Sunday, her first day on the job after recovering from major back surgery. After running some errands after work, she didn't get home until about 9:30 p.m.

Before bed, Adams noticed her dog, Nika, barking and generally demanding attention.

"I checked the whole house. I couldn't smell a thing" Adams said.

She said firefighters told her the fire, which began in the attic, probably began smoldering hours before anything was noticeable.

After walking Nika and double checking the locks, Adams finally put the uneasy dog in the basement. Then she went to sleep.

"The next thing I know, I hear screaming and people running on and off my porch," Adams said.

When she went to the door, she saw Rinck.

"She was yelling 'Get out, get out, your house is on fire.'"

Accustomed to disaster

At first Adams didn't believe Rinck. Having lost four homes to flooding and finally moving to higher ground, she had to be coaxed out of her house.

Since the smoke was venting through the attic, there was no immediate evidence of the blaze on the main floor where she slept.

"When I came outside, I looked back and said, 'Oh my God, it is on fire, I can't go back,'" Adams said.

Then she heard her dog barking.

As Rinck and Adams sat on the porch across the street and watched the firefighters work, Adams fretted about Nika.

"She was really worried about her dog," Rinck said.

She had reason: The fire had rolled down the stairwell to the basement.

The 105-pound dog, an Akita, was carried out safely by firefighter Robert Kembel.

"Suddenly, this huge gray thing is licking my face," Rinck said. Also found safe were a cat, a python, a gecko and some lizards. The reptiles belong to Adams' grandson.

Firefighters from all four stations battled the blaze. One suffered an injured back. They found no working fire alarm in the house.

Rinck stayed with Adams as she tried to reach various family members by telephone. Once daylight hit, she drove to Adams' brother's house.

"She was really sweet," Adams said about Rinck. "She was like a guardian angel. I really do believe that. She'll be in my heart and prayers forever."

Firefighters are still investigating the cause of the fire. The roof was destroyed and she lost most of her belongings. She didn't have insurance but says she'll be OK.

"I'm grateful to be alive," she said. "And I'm very grateful Nika is safe. She's sleeping on the sofa tonight."

As for Rinck, when she turned in her research paper on exercise late, "my professor said it was the best excuse he ever heard," she said.

335-6611, extension 160

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