When a teen thinks about the house fire he and a family escaped earlier this year, he remembers the smoke.
The smoke was almost too thick to see through; and when Ian Kenney tried to breathe, he could taste chemicals and feel his lungs and throat burn.
He could barely move after breathing it in, and he thought he was going to die in the fire.
Kenney also remembers the day after the fire, when he went back to see the damage at the house that was destroyed in the blaze.
He could see through all of the living room walls and into rooms where the ceiling had caved in, including where 4-year-old Gavin Rice had been sleeping the night of the May 5 fire. After Kenney and his friend, Jordan Rice, escaped from the house, Kenney rescued Gavin Rice by pulling him through a window.
This month Gov. Mitch Daniels will recognize Kenney and present him with his Eagle Scout badge as well as an Honor Medal with Crossed Palms for heroism.
Kenney, a 16-year-old junior at Center Grove High School, has been an active Boy Scout since 2008. He grew up learning Scouting principles, including helping others at all times. He believes that is the reason he reached back into the burning building.
“I’ve been taught these things my whole life. That was just the culmination of it,” he said.
Rita Rice, the homeowner, was hospitalized for several days after the fire with smoke inhalation, but none of the four children or teens who were staying at the house suffered any serious injuries. Rita Rice credits Kenney with saving her grandchildren.
“If he hadn’t been there that night, I definitely don’t think I would have gotten my grandbabies out,” Rice said.
Kenney had been spending the night at Rita Rice’s house where his friend, Jordan Rice, was staying with his grandmother. Rita Rice also was watching two other grandchildren, 4-year-old Gavin Rice and 5-year-old Lauren Rice.
Rita Rice woke up after hearing her youngest grandchildren crying and was able to get Lauren out through a window. But she fell and became trapped between furniture on her front porch before she could get to Gavin.
She started screaming for help.
Kenney and Jordan Rice had escaped from the back of the house. Kenney heard her screams, leaned in through the bedroom window, grabbed Gavin and pulled him to safety.
Rita Rice’s home was insured, and she’s staying in an apartment while the house is rebuilt. She said the fire was electrical and likely caused by a window air conditioner.
The new house will be built with a door in her bedroom that leads outside, to ensure if she ever again has to get out in the middle of the night, she’ll be able to leave more quickly, she said.
“You can’t help but think, if it ever happened again, would I be able to get out?” she said.
Kenney doesn’t like to spend a lot of time thinking about the fire, but every few weeks it crosses his mind.
His room is on the second floor of his house, and sometimes he wonders if that house caught fire how he would escape. He questions if he would hear the smoke detectors in time to be able to get out, and if he would be able to jump from a second-story window without seriously hurting himself.
Kenney and Rita Rice don’t see each other regularly; but a few weeks ago when he visited her church, she introduced him to everyone he met as her hero.
The quiet teen feels strange being referred to as a hero, but he appreciates the compliments and is grateful for the recognition he’ll receive from Daniels.
“It’s a great honor, and the fact that the governor of Indiana is giving it to me is an even greater honor,” he said.
But as an Eagle scout, Kenney also considers helping others is his responsibility, even if it means endangering his own safety.
“I don’t think I would be able to live with the guilt of being able to save someone and then having that person die while I live,” he said.