“Miracle man” escapes fire and is thankful to the Red Cross

Contributed by Randy Burns, Special to The Item 

"Miracle Man," Robert Brunson, an amputee without hands and portions of his legs shares his survival story.

The words hero and miracle get bandied about rather easily at times, but Sumter emergency responders were quick to use the words in describing how a 64-year-old physically disabled man managed to rescue himself from a blazing house fire earlier this week.

Robert Brunson, an amputee without hands and portions of his legs, was by himself in his wheelchair watching TV in the bedroom a few minutes before 1 a.m. Monday when the first fire alarm went off at his home at 991 Ravenwood Drive, about two miles from Sumter High School.

Brunson dismisses any talk of being a “miracle man.”  All I did was use just good common sense,” he said.  “When the alarm went off, I was not in the bed.  I was watching TV sitting in the chair.  That was good, but it would only have taken me a minute to get in the chair if I had been in the bed.  I knew what to do when I heard the alarm.  People say I’m a miracle, the way I do things.  I have learned to use my nubs as hands. And I can walk with my artificial legs and walker.  I just try to do the best I can.  I think I do more for myself than some people who have two arms and two legs.”

Practice leaving the house on his own in case of an emergency paid off.

“As I was trained to do by my wife, I rolled straight to the front door,” Brunson said.  “The alarm kept ringing, but I didn’t smell anything or see any fire.  I thought it was a false alarm.  Sometimes the alarm would go off like that.  I opened the front door to let some air in the house, thinking it would turn the alarm off.”

A couple of minutes later, the second alarm went off, Brunson said.

“I said to myself, something ain’t right,” Brunson said.  “I rolled back into the living room, and I felt the heat.  I saw the smoke, and I knew the house was on fire.  I told myself to get out of the house.  I rolled out the front door in my wheelchair, hollering for help.”

Marie and Robert Brunson's home at 991 Ravenwood Drive burns Monday.

Sumter Fire Battalion Chief Bud Ivey said Brunson was sitting in his chair in the front yard when he arrived shortly after 1 a.m. “Mr. Brunson was hysterical,” Ivey said.  “You know, he had just lost everything.  “Ivey said it was evident that Brunson himself was safe.   “It’s really a testament to smoke alarms and fire detectors,” Ivey said.   “Without them, I believe he would have perished in that fire.”  At the time of the fire, Brunson’s wife, Marie, was working the midnight shift as a nursing assistant at Covenant Place. Marie Brunson said she asked two questions when a neighbor called to tell her of the fire.   “First, I wanted to know where my husband was,” she said.   “And second, I wanted to know if he was all right.”
 
“When he saw me coming down the street, I was running to him,” she said. “He said, ‘Boo, we have lost everything.’   I told him, ‘No, we haven’t lost everything.  You are still alive, and I’m alive.'”   Brunson said she wasn’t surprised her husband was able to rescue himself. “He did what he was taught to do,” she said. ”  I am just so happy we had smoke alarms.   I advise everybody to have smoke alarms.” 

The Brunson's, Marie and Robert, call each other "Boo." They have been married 25 years. Robert Brunson said his wife is his friend, therapist, partner, lover and wife.

 The Brunsons say they are also appreciative to Red Cross for their assistance.  Red Cross provided the Brunsons with three nights of lodging and money for clothing and personal items.   “I knew about the Red Cross,” said Robert Brunson. “But I found out how important they are.  I don’t know what we would have done without Red Cross.”

Red Cross Volunteer Larry Nettles said Ivey called him about 1:30 a.m. Monday.  “Chief told me to come quick, that they had a man in a wheelchair by himself,” Nettles said.  Nettles said he learned quickly that Brunson was “an amazing man.” “His surviving that fire is nothing short of a miracle,” Nettles said.  “Mr. Brunson is a real hero.”

The Brunsons asked Nettles to be with them on Friday morning when the insurance adjuster met with them.  Their house was a total loss, estimated value at $80,000 with contents estimated at $30,000, according to an incident report filed by the Sumter Fire Department.  The fire started in the laundry room area of the house and is thought to have been caused by an electrical short.  “They were nervous about what he would say,” Nettles said.  “They just bought the insurance in November, and they wanted someone to be with them.”

The Brunsons were delighted with their meeting.  They will be provided lodging for three months, until they find a permanent home.  “We are going to get another house and move back home on the same property,” Brunson said.Robert Brunson said he is fortunate to live in Sumter.  “I’ve lived in New Jersey, North Carolina and Georgia,” he said.  “But there’s no better place than Sumter.  Everybody has been great.”  Brunson said he is particularly lucky to be married to Marie. “We call each other Boo,” he said. “We’ve been married 25 years. I met her on a bus headed for Myrtle Beach.  She was going to work. And I was looking for a job.  Well, I ended up with a new job and a new wife.”

Brunson said he is excited about the future.  “Everything is going to be fine,” he said.  “You know, my wife is my best friend.  She’s my therapist, my partner, my lover, and my wife.”

Greg Haskins and Larry Nettles are the two Red Cross volunteers that assisted Robert and Marie Burnson.  These dedicated volunteers were on the scene providing immediate emergency assistance to the Brunson’s at 1:30 a.m. on the night of the fire. 

 Click here to read more stories from The Item.

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