On a late-summer Sunday afternoon in Berks County, volunteer firefighters were going about their day until a page changed their direction. On this particular Sunday in August 2019, a house on Lenape Road in Washington Township was on fire.

Firefighters Sage Mutter, Jessy Cook and Scott Kauffman, volunteers with the Eastern Berks Fire Department, got there first. They could hear Marie and Richard Minford screaming for help.

"It got so smoky so fast that then I ran out," Marie Minford recalled. "I heard the two guys down by the basement door."

Richard Minford, who was in a wheelchair, was trapped inside.

No fire trucks were on scene yet, just the volunteers with what little equipment they carry in their own cars. They didn't have air packs, just their helmets and boots.

"The last thing you should do is go into a house without an air pack on, with the burning house filling up with smoke," Kauffman said.

Kauffman, Mutter, and Cook made their way in following the sound of Richard Minford's voice.

"Well, when we got into the room where we found the guy, there was two windows, and we wanted to get out, but we couldn't go back down the hallway," Mutter explained.

They didn't know Marie Minford had followed them back in. She was able to get out again, but the fire was too close, the smoke was too heavy, and the firefighters had no choice but to jump out the second-story window without her husband.

By now, the first truck had arrived. Mutter grabbed an air pack and went back inside the burning home.

Warren Bechtel and Jake Benfield were on that first truck. They went in through the window to help get Richard Minford out and into the ambulance.

When it was over, eight firefighters went to the hospital that day.

The Minfords lost the home they had lived in for 36 years. They raised their kids there.

Richard Minford never left the hospital. He died just days after the fire. Then, this past May, Marie Minford, who had survived it all, lost her battle with cancer.

At a reunion a month after the fire, even in the midst of her loss, she was grateful for the way the firefighters ran inside her burning home, for the way they showed up, for the way they risked their lives to save others.

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