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 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 www.YouCaring.com 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.
~Mark Esposito, Weekend Contributor