By Dedra Cordle
Stacey Dirosario-Holmes says she does not necessarily buy into the philosophy that everything happens for a reason, but she does believe that lessons can be learned through the obstacles that are placed onto our path.
It was the fall of 2020 and the Dirosario-Holmes family was left reeling after a fire destroyed their Reynoldsburg home. Despite being devastated by the event, she was determined to learn what steps, if any, could have been taken in order to prevent this personal tragedy.
After picking up some of the pieces of their lives, Dirosario-Holmes reached out to the local firefighters who responded to the scene to get their thoughts on what had happened to her home and why nearly all of it was burned to the ground.
“I remember them telling me that if some of the doors had been closed at the time when the fire had started, it could have made a real difference in terms of slowing the spread of the flames,” she recalled.
In hindsight, she said it made perfect sense.
“I didn’t think of this until they told me that bit of information, but our garage was largely untouched by the fire compared to the rest of our home,” she said. “And that was because all of the doors leading to that portion of our home were closed.”
Although she wished she could go back in time with that knowledge in mind to save her home, the only thing she could actually do was move forward and file that information away as a “lesson learned.”
She hoped that there would never come a time when she would have to put that knowledge to use.
Unfortunately for Dirosario-Holmes, she did have to put that lesson to use recently but she knew exactly what to do when she saw flames spreading through a home she was visiting. Her actions that day have her being hailed as a hero by a local township’s governing body and its fire department personnel.
“She put her life on the line to save another,” said Jackson Township Fire Chief Randy Little at last month’s board of trustees meeting where she was honored for her bravery.
November 1 was a typical day on the job for Dirosario-Holmes, a medical assistant who is employed with the in-house senior care organization, Comfort Keepers. Her main task that morning was to “keep an eye” on one of her patients, Grove City resident Arley Nelson, and remind him to take it easy as he recovered from a recent medical issue.
“His wife, Ms. Pearl, and their daughter had a few personal errands to tend to, so I had to make sure Mr. Arley was getting his rest,” she said. “Sometimes patients who are in recovery don’t want to spend as much time as they should be recovering, so I had to make sure he was resting up – or doing as much of it as I could get him to do.”
Comforted by the fact that he had settled into his favorite recliner, Dirosario-Holmes went to check on the status of the laundry and heard a “really loud pop” coming from somewhere in the condominium.
“It was like a glass shattering kind of pop,” she said. “I wasn’t really sure where it had come from, I wasn’t sure what it was that had made that noise, but I was really scared because the sound was just so violent.”
She said she went around the kitchen island and asked Arley if he knew what had happened. He did not, but the realization that something serious, something dangerous, had occurred had started to reach their senses.
“I started to smell that awful acrid smell and then before I knew it a bunch of smoke, really thick, black smoke was everywhere.”
Spotting the flames licking through the bedroom, she quickly shut the door to buy some time as she alerted 911 of the situation and worked to get her patient out of his home. She ran over to Arley to set up the Hurley lift so he could be safely removed from the area, but the electrical lift-system decided it would be a good time to stop working.
“It just died right there, half-way in-between lifting him, and then I had to make a choice.”
Knowing that she could not leave Arley there to fend for himself as the smoke grew heavier – “I never would have been able to live with myself if I had,” she said – she started dragging him and that Hoyer lift through the condominium to the front door.
As smoke “as thick as water” filled her lungs, she ran out of the front door to get a breath of fresh air so she did not pass out. She then returned to the smoke-filled living room and continued to drag Arley to safety. When they reached the outdoors, she took another deep breath to go back inside for the Nelson’s puppy and his wheelchair.
“And that’s when I saw (Jackson Township firefighter) Greg Tussing and I thought he was just an angel sent from heaven,” she said. “He honestly could not have come at a better time and I knew that by seeing them here that everything would be OK.”
The fire department personnel and the board of trustees were quick to point out that it was her swift actions that led to “things turning out OK” for all of the people involved.
“This lady is a hero,” said Little. “She saved someone’s life and she didn’t have to – and that’s the part that I think is so amazing.
“It is hard enough to do the job these gentlemen do here with an air bottle and gear on because of the heat and the smoke. But she didn’t have an air bottle on or any gear and for her to go in and do that and then enter again is nothing short of amazing.”
During their meeting last month, the board of trustees presented Dirosario-Holmes with a proclamation of gratitude for her actions that saved the life of Arley Nelson and those within the surrounding units. They decreed Nov. 22, 2022 as “Stacey Dirosario Holmes Day” in the township. The fire department also presented Dirosario-Holmes with its Citizen Heroism Award for her life-saving efforts.
She said she was overwhelmed by the recognition of her actions that day but believes that “anyone would have done what I did.” She added that she was just glad that she was there to be able to help out when someone was in need – and that she was able to put her newfound knowledge on how to contain the spread of fire to use.
“Knowing what to do definitely helped with that aspect,” she said, “but I think I have had enough fire experiences to last a lifetime.”