Two young men never thought they would become heroes after heading out to play a quick game of basketball yesterday evening at the South Ward Playground in Tamaqua.
While shooting a few hoops, friends Ernie C. Shilko, 16, and Tyler Kalkins, 17, sophomore at Tamaqua Area High School, noticed dark smoke rising over a couple homes about a block northeast of the playground. Curious, the two sprinted to the area to notice even thicker smoke and rising flames coming from the side of 208 West Spruce St.
"We didn't see anyone outside the home and were worried there might be people in the home," said Shilko.
"We both kept yelling up at the house to see if anyone was inside," said Kalkins. "Then we heard dogs barking."
"We tried to open the sliding glass door," added Kalkins. "But it wouldn't open."
A few seconds later, passers-by Justin Startzel and Howard Startzel arrived to see thick smoke and flames rising high from the side area of the home.
"I was coming from work, and thought the whole bottom of the home was on fire," said Howard Startzel.
Justin Startzel, wanting to help and seeing the two young men's efforts to get the attention of anybody inside, yelled down the hill to Shilko and Kalkins to break the glass door. Listening, both the young men grabbed a loose piece of lumber and smashed it through the sliding glass door of the home. After breaking the glass, the two were quick to enter the home in search of anyone. Not seeing anybody, both decided to focus on saving the pets.
At the same time, South Ward Fire Chief Mark Bower and Tamaqua Police Officer Karl Harig arrived on scene to see both Shilko and Kalkins working together to awaken anyone inside as well as get the pets outside. At this time, they had managed to gather one dog and wrap a blanket around it and give it to Justin, who cared for it outside. By this time, firefighters took control of the scene and asked both to leave the house for safety reasons.
Firefighters from the South Ward Fire Company, located only a few blocks away, were having their training night last night. This, in addition to many local members, resulted in a very fast response time for firefighters.
Startzel said all this happened so fast, estimating a time frame of only about a minute or so.
Four dogs and one cat were removed from the house. None had any injuries.
"Firefighters from all Tamaqua fire companies responded and put a quick stop to the fire," Startzel said.
Despite looking as if the lower level of the home was on fire, firefighters said the fire and smoke weren't coming from the home, rather a side section of the property located a few feet from the northwest side of the home and adjacent wooden storage shed.
Bower said that no persons were in the house during the fire. He added that no serious damage was done to the home.
Firefighters ruled the fire as accidental, and said hot ashes placed next to the property had ignited a pile of remodeling debris on the property.
Shilko gave credit for his courage to his father, Ernie W. Shilko, a retired member of the South Ward Fire Company.
The owners of the property, Roxanne and Clovis Williams, who live there with their two children, expressed their appreciation to Shilko, Kalkins, Startzel, Harig, Bower and all the other emergency volunteers that arrived on scene.