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When Brian Thomas Pauley’s doorbell rang Nov. 28, he had no idea he was about to become a hero.
Although a familiar face appeared at the door — it was his neighbor and fellow Anderson County High School classmate, Laken — what she was about to say was the last thing he expected to hear.
She yelled, “My house is on fire,” Thomas, 15, later recalled.
So, he sprung into action, doing the first thing that crossed his mind.
“The only thing I knew to do was to grab our fire extinguisher and go try to put it out,” he said.
Thomas then ran into his neighbor’s kitchen on Drury Lane and proceeded to put out a grease fire on the stove.
“I just pulled the pin and squeezed,” Thomas said, adding that he had never used a fire extinguisher before.
In the moments leading up to the fire, Lori Buffin, Laken’s mother, and her 4-year-old daughter decided to fry some french fries. Buffin put some grease in the skillet and before she knew it, it burst into flames on her stove.
"You know when you're at a restaurant and they bring food out on fire — that's what the whole pan looked like," Buffin said.
The first thing that ran through her mind was not to throw water on it "because it was an electric stove," she said. So, she tried to smother the fire, but wasn't able to and it started climbing up the wall, she said.
"Then I knew I had to get my family out," she said.
Laken was already outside because she'd been walking the dog, so Buffin told her to go get some help. That's when she knocked on Thomas's door.
Thomas said it took about one or two minutes to extinguish the flames and once he was sure they were out, he went back outside and sat down. That’s when the reality of his actions started to sink in.
“I had breathed a lot of smoke, so I had to catch my breath,” he said. “Then, I started wondering what my dad would say."
His dad, Brian, told him to never do that again.
When Buffin saw Thomas coming out of the house, she had mixed thoughts running through her head.
"I hugged him and kept saying 'Thank you. Are you stupid? I love you,'" she said. "He literally saved my house."
Buffin had called 911 sometime during all the excitement, and by this time the Anderson County Fire District arrived on scene.
"The fire was out when we got there," said Fire Chief Mike Barnes.
Barnes said that because of the nature of the fire, Thomas didn't really put himself in any danger by running into the house.
"He had the proper extinguisher," Barnes said. "It was more than big enough. It's probably the size of one we carry on the fire trucks."
Barnes said the grease overheated and caught fire. The fire was contained to the stove although it scorched the cabinets and the stove's exhaust fan.
Barnes advised the Buffins not to use the stove until it had been serviced or replaced.
"It's probably cheaper to replace it," he said.
Without a stove, Buffin said she can't do a lot of cooking.
"But my kids are loving to eat out a lot," she said, with a laugh.
The Buffins are thankful they can still live in the house and that the kitchen was the only thing damaged.
"I just don't know how to thank him (Thomas)," Buffin said. "We've made him the citizen of the month here in Glenview.
"He and his family have helped us before, but never to this extent. I just wanted to say thanks."
Now that it's all said and done, Thomas said he has no regrets and, if given the chance, would do the same again.
"I would do it again for somebody," he said. "Because I would want them to do it for me."
E-mail Shannon Mason Brock at firstname.lastname@example.org.