Grace Under Pressure: Tyler Doohan’s Courage

By Mark Esposito, Weekend Contributor

Author’s Note: Grace Under Pressure is an ongoing series of posts honoring everyday people who courageously make positive differences in their own lives and consequently in the lives of others. It is my own personal affirmation that unexpected heroes live among us and that their service is quiet but unshakable proof that virtue really is its own reward  – and ours, too.

tyler-doohan-300x400Tyler Doohan was sound asleep when his nose twitched at the irritation of the smoke. Staying at his relatives’ single wide trailer with eight other family members and many pets, the fourth grader was instantly aware something was wrong.  Then, Tyler saw the fire coming from the blanket of his 4-year-old cousin.  In an instant, his fate would change .

Tyler loved staying with his grandfather, Lewis Beach,  who adored the child right back. Though disabled, Tyler’s grandfather doted on the child and insisted on keeping him at the trailer whenever he could in the upstate New York town of  Penfield. The Martin Luther King holiday was the perfect time for  eight-year-old Tyler and 57-year-old Lewis to cement family bonds. Tyler traveled the short distance from his home in East Rochester to do just that. This was a family sleep-over with aunts, uncles and cousins and everyone was looking forward to a great time.

Now seeing the danger dancing around his cousin, Tyler bolted from his spot on the floor of the trailer and woke everyone he could find including his two cousins, ages 4 and 6. Six folks made it out of the now blazing trailer alive due to Tyler’s courage but when Tyler made it out of the  14’x60′ trailer he didn’t see his grandfather. Firefighters were en route and would arrive just minutes after the 4:45 a.m. call came in, but that was not fast enough.

Realizing the child was panicking and might do something about the patriarch’s hopeless predicament, Tyler’s aunt grabbed him around his shoulders and tried to reason with him. But  Tyler would have none of it and broke free running back into the now deteriorating and glowing hulk. The child made straight for the rear bedroom where he knew his grandfather was trapped by his infirmity. Despite the heroic efforts of firefighters, neither Tyler nor his grandfather could be saved.

Tyler’s little body was found on the bed together with his grandfather.  Veteran firefighters said that the little boy was lifting his grandfather from the bed just seconds before both succumbed to the intense heat and blinding smoke. Tyler’s uncle also died in the fire.  “I am so grateful he went with people that he loved, that he didn’t cross over alone,” the little boy’s mother, Crystal Vrooman, said. “I’m so glad that he was with his best friends.”

A memorial fund on the website has raised over $55,000.00 to pay for burial expenses and a memorial. Tyler’s school,  East Rochester Elementary,  is setting up a program to buy textbooks in Tyler’s name. And the astonished firefighters of Penfield are considering giving Tyler an honorary firefighter’s funeral to recognize his heroic actions.

The origin of the fire seems to be electrical and there was one space heater in the trailer but no working smoke detectors. A link between the space heater and the fire has not been established.

One has to wonder what kind of courage it takes to ignore one of the primordial human fears and rush back into a fire-breathing trailer. And even more stupefying is the lack of hesitation by one so young to risk his life to save someone he loved. Tyler was everything anyone could want in a person and the tragedy of his loss is almost unbearable for those who knew and loved him.

His death does cement in our minds two essential human truths: courage rests on a firm foundation of love and that you find it in the most unlikely of places, among the most unlikely of people. So long as we care for others as much or more than we care for ourselves, this  surely is a nation of heroes. Tyler’s story proves that and his example proves  something else as well — there is no minimum age for selfless love.

I’m sure Tyler and his grandfather talk about that every day now.

Source: Huffington Post; CNN

~Mark Esposito, Weekend Contributor

14 thoughts on “Grace Under Pressure: Tyler Doohan’s Courage

  1. Man. Mespo, I remember your passion in discussing the post of the dad prevented from going into a burning house to save his son. If I remember the guy ended up getting arrested. I was left braining on that thread and thought that while the dad should not have been arrested, the cops were correct. I think that’s the back story for this great post. There’s really no right or wrong on this or the aforementioned fire. The age does change the equation a bit. The left brain says the dad was saving a child. In this case it was a child saving an older man. But Mespo, I know it’s not all about logic. I always appreciate these posts. Sad and uplifting all @ once.

  2. Nick:
    There are certain sentiments that are so fundamental to our humanity that to deny them denies that humanity. Protecting one’ s kin at great risk to life and limb is one of them. The government has no business telling us how and when we can fufill those sentiments.

  3. Mespo, I have thought about this since your last comment. Being a libertarian, I have been trying to understand my non libertarian stance on this. I think it comes from dealing w/ so much death in my career. I believe that life is beautiful and precious. And I am a pragmatist. I hate to see a life wasted pursuing a life that is almost certainly lost. The irony is I do have a quixotic nature, evidenced by my hope to an end of the duopoly that plaques our political system. I have other quixotic beliefs, but that’s one expressed here often. This will take more introspection. Walking the beach is the best venue for that for me. I’ll be doing that the next few months.

  4. nick:

    “Being a libertarian, I have been trying to understand my non libertarian stance on this. I think it comes from dealing w/ so much death in my career. I believe that life is beautiful and precious. ”

    There are things worse than death. Like living with the guilt that you could have done something to save a loved one but didn’t. Honor and intrepidity still count for something and Macaulay got it right I think when he said:

    “To every man upon this earth
    Death cometh soon or late.
    And how can man die better
    Than facing fearful odds,
    For the ashes of his fathers,
    And the temples of his gods?”

    On philosophical consistency, I’m Emersonian:

    “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. — ‘Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’ — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.”

    A walk on the beach with Macaulay and Emerson sure sounds good to me.

  5. Mespo,
    A walk on any warm beach with just about anyone sounds good to me when we are looking at 20 below zero tomorrow night with windchills of 35-40 below!

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