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Neighbor Saves 4 From Burning Trailer But Despite His Heroic Efforts, 3-Year-Old Boy Dies In Blaze

Tue., April 4, 1995

Unpublished correction: The name of the boy who died is Brandon Keller-Farnworth. His father’s name is Troy Farnworth.

When Wayne Sterling awoke and saw a column of black smoke billowing out of his neighbor’s mobile home Monday morning, he didn’t bother with shoes and a shirt.

Running next door, Sterling broke the bay window next to the front door, opened the door, rushed inside and helped get two infants and their parents to safety.

But another child, Brandon, was nowhere to be found. The 3-year-old died in the fire that gutted the mobile home in Morgan Acres, just northeast of the Spokane city limits.

“They were all sleeping in the living room,” said Skip Wells, deputy chief of Fire District 9. “When the neighbor knocked open the door, the fire was coming over a side room, rolling over the ceiling. The wife went out the window, and the dad got the two kids.

“Had that neighbor not knocked on that door, we’d have had five fatalities.”

Brandon’s father, Troy Farnsworth, 25, and mother, Carey Keller, 23, escaped injury. Their two infants also were unhurt.

Sterling suffered minor injuries. Late Monday morning, he sat on his couch and soaked his left foot, which was cut by broken glass. He wore dark glasses, but they didn’t hide his occasional tears as he talked about what happened.

He said he and his friend Karen Rogers were awakened just before 8 a.m. by the sound of a dog rattling its chain in front of Sterling’s home.

They looked outside and saw smoke coming out of the back of the mobile home at 7321 N. Market. As Sterling ran to help, Rogers called 911. Her call was the first of 14 logged about the fire by emergency services between 8 and 8:06 a.m.

After helping most of the family out of the trailer, Sterling tried to use a hose to put out the fire. Sterling and Farnsworth also tried to re-enter the trailer to find Brandon. Nothing worked.

“The whole trailer burned up in 15 minutes,” Sterling said. “I got on the hood of a car” and shattered another window. “As soon as I broke the glass, the flames pushed me back off my feet.”

Sterling and Rogers complained that District 6 firefighters didn’t arrive for at least 20 minutes.

“It’s a volunteer fire department,” said Sterling, shrugging his shoulders.

Firefighters actually arrived in about seven minutes, according to Fire District 9, which dispatched the call.

Complaints about response time aren’t unusual, said Scott Blystone, chief of District 6.

“I’ve been in that position, needing help, and it always takes a lot longer than you expect,” he said.

When firefighters arrived, flames were shooting out of the windows and dark smoke was pouring out the top of the trailer.

For almost 90 minutes, nobody could find Brandon.

“They were looking in the cars for him, calling his name,” Rogers said. “They thought maybe he had got out.”

His body finally was found inside the trailer at 9:25 a.m. A cause of death had not been determined, but an autopsy was planned.

The fire was caused by a furnace malfunction, Wells said.

Although the home had a smoke detector, it was installed 30 inches off the kitchen floor - too low to detect smoke from most fires.

Late Monday morning, firefighters picked through the rubble of the mobile home. Charred supports held up the sagging roof, but most of the walls were gone.

“Trailers like this don’t withstand heavy fire,” Blystone said. “They’re not built really to withstand a lot of heat.”

The front yard was littered with children’s toys - a green plastic shovel, a black and white plastic tricycle and a small bike, tipped on its side. A melted Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles pool lay in front of the trailer.

Brandon was described Monday as a carefree child. “He liked to play hide-and-seek,” Sterling said.

Brandon was one of the couple’s four children. The oldest child, 4, stays with his grandmother most of the time, neighbors said.

The family will stay at Farnsworth’s mother’s home, Wells said.

ILLUSTRATION: Color photo; Map of area of fire

Tags: Death, Hero

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