Off-duty volunteer fireman saves woman from burning home

An off-duty 911 dispatcher and auxiliary firefighter is being credited for saving a life in a fatal Person County fire early Saturday.

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ROXBORO, N.C. — Brett Wrenn considered stopping to get something to eat when he got off from work as a Person County 911 dispatcher around 1 a.m. Saturday.

Instead, he decided to just eat something at home and was on his way there when he came upon a burning home on John Allen Road just outside Roxboro.

"I saw fire in the window. I could actually see flames, and I saw some smoke coming from the house," Wrenn recalled Monday.

Wrenn, 23, is also an auxiliary firefighter for the Hurdle Mills Volunteer Fire Department, near Roxboro, where he works 10 to 12 hours a week.

He immediately stopped, got out of his car and began to put to use his training as a firefighter – calling 911, assessing the scene and putting on his bunker pants and coat, the only gear with him at the time.

His first thought: Is everyone OK?

"That was my first thought, wondering if everybody was safe, because we are always taught and trained that a life comes before property," he said.

As he started to walk around the house, he heard the screams of a woman – "Help me, I can't breathe" – coming from inside.

"I spotted her screaming for help right at the window," he said. "She was unable to get through the screen. The screen had been nailed to the house."

Wrenn asked the woman to step away, and after several attempts, he was able to break through the screen. He leaned in, grabbed her and pulled her to safety.

"She was in a very big panic," he said. "She knew someone else was still inside."

But because he didn't have any of his other protective gear, he couldn't go inside the burning home to search.

All he could do was go window-to-window, hoping that whoever else was inside could be rescued and try to comfort the woman until further help arrived.

Timothy Wesley died in the blaze. His fiancée, Sylvia Wurzbacher, 49, was taken to a local hospital for carbon monoxide poisoning. She was released on Sunday.

Investigators are still working to determine what caused the fire. Family members say there was a fire in the fireplace that might have gotten out of control.

Had Wrenn decided to stop for food, he and fire investigators said, the outcome could have been different.

"It was an action from the Lord is all I can say. It was meant to be," Wrenn said. "I'm definitely not a hero. Any other volunteer, any other fireman – they would have done the same thing."

Danny Wesley said his brother loved his work as a bricklayer and was devoted to his fiancée and family.

"He did a tremendous job," Wesley said of Wrenn. "I know he did all that he could have possibly done, and we appreciate the effort that he did put into it."