FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – A Fort Wayne family is alive thanks to a father’s heroic actions during a house fire. It happened around 2:30 Friday morning at 3530 Oliver Street on the city’s south side.
It took crews 20 minutes to get the flames under control, but it’s the moments before those minutes where this story of survival begins.
Walter Lewis has rheumatoid arthritis and woke up in the middle of the night with a dry mouth from his medicine. He walked downstairs to get some water. As he started to go back up to the second floor, he heard his five-month-old American bulldog, Rock.
“Whatever he was doing down there, it made a noise. I don’t know if he knocked something over or whatever, but it made enough noise for me to get on him. By the time I made it to the bottom of the stairs, he was running up the stairs and he doesn’t ever come up the stairs no matter what. I think that was his way of telling me we’ve got to go back up,” Lewis said. “I get to the top of the stairs and I see a light on, but I don’t remember leaving a light on. So, I hadn’t seen any smoke or anything like that. I go down the stairs, and when I get to the bottom of the stairs, I see fire, and I immediately turn and start yelling for my wife to get up and get the kids up.”
Lewis rushed to get his family to the porch roof.
“I always keep all of my stuff- my phone, my knife, and everything- in my pocket. So, I took it out, had to cut the plastic off, and pried the window open and kicked the screen out,” Lewis said. “I got everybody out on the roof and threw a blanket out there so we wouldn’t slip off of the roof, and I start screaming for help.”
When that help didn’t come, Lewis put matter over mind and overcame his fears to save his family.
“Me being scared of heights and having my issues with my body, I just said forget it and thought about my family, I couldn’t let them burn up. So, I jumped off of the roof. I didn’t scoot to the edge, I just jumped. It knocked the wind out of me, but I had to get the ladder,” Lewis said. “I went and got my ladder, put it back, and climbed up there. I had to carry my 9-month-old in my teeth, by his little sleeper. I had my daughter wrapped up around my arms, and I had to walk down. I had her hold her brother, and I went up there and got my other daughter. Then, I went up and got my wife. I tried to get my dog, but he just disappeared in the black smoke.”
The loss of Rock is hitting hard for Lewis who said the pet died helping save his family.
“I called him my therapy dog. He also kept me on my toes and always wanted to play with me or run around. It’s crazy because he was like part of my family, he was like one of my kids,” Lewis said.
He heroic actions may sound like superman, but Lewis said he’s anything but.
“That’s a big word to use for me when I’m not a hero. I’m just an ordinary person that would help anybody, but this happened to be the time when I helped my own family,” Lewis said. “I live to protect my family, and that’s what matters. Just like Rock, he lived to protect us.”
In a way, the ladder that brought this family to safety has always been a sense of security. Lewis fixes houses for a living.
“It’s kind of like my good luck ladder now,” Lewis said.
The family just moved into their home on Oliver Street this past August. It was a fixer-upper of sorts.
“To actually one day own a house instead of throwing all of my money away renting it, it was special to us because we did so much here as a family to build it up. It had a bad reputation when we first got it from the neighbors telling us stuff. They told me the best thing to do was just sell it and go. I told them no, I’m staying,” Lewis said. “We managed to stay and work through it all because at the end of the day, it was going to be ours.”
Friday morning, that ladder became more than a tool for an occupation. It was salvation and forever a stamp of this brave father’s spirit.
“The ladder is still there. I can still climb to the top. That’s how I see it. There’s no looking back. I have to continue to move forward,” Lewis said.
If you’d like to help the Lewis family, a GoFundMe account is set up. Click here to donate.