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Inside the bystander rescue from Saturday’s massive house fire in Ann Arbor

A two-story structure located on South Main Street in Ann Arbor burns on Sept. 18, 2021.
A two-story structure located on South Main Street in Ann Arbor burns on Sept. 18, 2021. (Ann Arbor Fire Department)

ANN ARBOR – A house fire devastated a home just steps away from Michigan Stadium on Saturday night.

The Ann Arbor Fire Department posted photos of the blaze on its Facebook page and said bystanders removed the home’s sole occupant before emergency personnel arrived on the scene.

Rachel Harvey, a University of Michigan alumna, had stopped into town with her father, Michael, to have dinner before going to pick up her mother at the airport. As they were leaving Ann Arbor on Main Street, they saw flames coming out of the windows of a house.

A former firefighter with Farmington Hills Fire Department, Michael sprung into action.

“He immediately pulls up to the house because nobody was there,” said Harvey. “There was no EMS, no firetrucks, and we run up to the door. A few people run out and they’re yelling and said there’s people in the house and we need to get them out. We don’t even think twice. My dad runs in and at this point it’s black in the house, there’s smoke (everywhere). It was pretty scary.”

Flames engulf a home on South Main Street in Ann Arbor on Sept. 18, 2021. (Rachel Harvey)

She remembers seeing a person lying on the floor, and her father and two other men pulled him out of the burning home.

“Obviously, he’s not very alert and oriented,” said Harvey, who said the man was elderly. “It was hard to tell if he was conscious or not. I’m in my fourth year of medical school right now so I knew to do a level one and level two trauma survey with the materials I had. I tried to assess him for any injuries and make sure he’s breathing.”

Her father and the two other men continued yelling into the house to determine if there were other occupants. Then the man began to speak. He told the group he lived alone.

From there, it was a quick succession of trucks arriving, said Harvey. She waited for EMS to arrive to take him to hospital before she left the scene since he suffered some burns. She said she called the hospital on Sunday to check in and see if the man was stable.

“Obviously, they can’t give me much information,” she said. “I’m just happy to know he’s safe at this point and that he will be okay.”

On a personal note, Harvey said it was moving to watch her father utilize a career’s worth of training.

Michael and Rachel Harvey attend a University of Michigan hockey game. (Rachel Harvey)

“I’ve never seen a fire,” she said. “My dad had been in a bunch, and he knew what to do to assess the structure of the house, if it looks stable and if we should go in. I trust him with my life.

“It was also really remarkable to see my dad in action like that. It was a real proud moment for me as a daughter because he really was like a hero.”

Built in 1880, the home suffered such significant damage during the blaze that it will likely be demolished. AAFD said that hoarding conditions added fuel to the blaze, making it difficult to contain.

Those with videos or pictures of the fire are asked to email fire@a2gov.org or send media via private message on Facebook.

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About the Author:

Meredith has worked for WDIV since August 2017 and was voted one of Washtenaw County's best journalists in 2019 by eCurrent's readers. She covers the community of Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in International Broadcast Journalism from City University London, UK.