Dakota Taylor had only lived in his apartment in Lawrence Park Village for about two months when disaster struck.
“I had gone outside to smoke a cigarette,” Taylor said of the night of Sept. 23. “I usually go out back, but for some reason, something told me to go out front.”
Taylor said he hadn’t been outside long, when he saw a police vehicle approaching his apartment complex. Little did Taylor know, the apartment next to his was on fire.
“He pulled in and told me to get everyone out of my apartment and to warn the neighbors,” Taylor said.
Dressed only in a pair of boxer-shorts, Taylor said he hurried to do what the officer said.
Taylor got his family out, then ran to the neighbor’s apartment and pounded on their door. He said he continued to warn his neighbors until he came to an apartment that was empty.
“I ran back to my place to get shorts or something,” Taylor said. He said he met Damion Palmer outside.
“Dakota had knocked on our door to tell us there was a fire,” Palmer said. “When we got out there, I realized the fire was at an elderly woman’s house and there had just been an ambulance at her place only a few days ago.”
Palmer said he and Taylor tried to call out to 74-year-old Frances Lutz, but got no response.
“I had heard someone say that she (Lutz) might be deaf, so I knew yelling for her wasn’t going to work,” Palmer said.
“We didn’t know if she was unconscious or anything so we knew we had to get inside.”
“I met Damion at the back door. He had a sweatshirt and I said ‘give me your sweatshirt,’ but the police officer asked for it, so we gave it to him,” Taylor said.
He said he, Palmer and Lawrence Township Police Officer Jonathan Walker and Clearfield Borough Police Sgt. Nathan Curry attempted to get into the apartment, but the officers turned back due to the heavy smoke.
“It was black,” Taylor said. “I couldn’t see anything, so I was just feeling my way around. I found a bag of hamburger buns and I tore it open so I could put it over my face because the smoke was so bad.”
Taylor said he and Palmer continued searching inside the burning apartment building until he was able to make his way to the front door.
He said he and Palmer opened the front door and the officers rejoined him inside the apartment.
Taylor said he was able to find his way to the bedroom. Palmer said it was so dark inside the apartment that the flashlights the police officers had were their only light source.
“I asked the officer if I could have his flashlight, and he gave it to me,” Taylor said. “I found the bedroom door and it was really hot. I kicked it in and started looking in the room.”
“Dakota kicked the door open and we started looking in the room. I was standing behind him (Taylor) holding the door open so we could get back out. The officers were saying it was getting too dangerous and we had to get out, but we could see her legs on the floor.”
Taylor said he and Palmer dragged Lutz towards the front door and with the help of the police officers, they were able to get Lutz outside.
Once outside, Walker and Curry summoned ambulances to treat Lutz, as well as Taylor and Palmer for smoke inhalation. Taylor also received minor burns to his legs. He said in spite of his injuries and the heavy smoke, he didn’t want to leave the apartment until he located Lutz.
“It was just really crazy,” Taylor said. “It was like a movie. When everything was over, I was taking a shower because I was just black. I kept thinking to myself, wow, it was like something you see in a movie, it didn’t seem real.”
“I sat with her outside and held her hand. I was trying to talk to her and keep her conscious,” Palmer said.
Taylor said he had never really spoken to Lutz before the night of the fire but said members of her family had thanked him for saving her.
Palmer also said he didn’t really know Lutz personally, but she was still his neighbor and he felt he had to do something to help.
“All I was really worried about was getting her out and making sure Dakota was OK,” Palmer said.
“It was a really crazy experience,” Taylor said. “We’re new to town and no one can really be ready for something like this. When it happens you can wait for the fire department to come or you can try to do something yourself.”
Taylor’s mother was proud of her son’s heroism. She posted on her Facebook: “Tonight, my fearless son, Dakota Taylor, rescued a woman from her burning apartment. He had to break her door down. He used a bread bag over his mouth and drug [sic] her to safety. [I’m] so very proud of him. Hopefully, she makes it.”