It was a Tuesday to remember for the mayor of a Gloucester County town as he attended a funeral, saved a woman’s life from a fire and then went to Governor Christie’s final State of the State address all within the span of a few hours.
Paulsboro Mayor Gary Stevenson, who also works as a funeral director and volunteer firefighter in the town, was leaving a funeral around 9:30 a.m. when he noticed smoke coming from a home a block away on West Broad Street.
“I saw smoke coming back from this house and I originally thought it was a chimney,” said Stevenson, who was also a fire chief for 12 years.
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Stevenson parked his car and walked closer to the smoke, noticing that it was growing in intensity.
“As I got closer to the house I could see the white smoke turning black which tells you it’s a fire,” Stevenson said.
Stevenson called 911 and then checked to see if anyone was inside the burning home. Two other men who were in the area arrived to help. The three men banged on the doors and yelled until a woman finally came down and asked them what was wrong.
“I’m like honey, your house is on fire,” Stevenson said.
Stevenson told NBC10 the woman was a shift worker and was sleeping when the fire began. As he tried to get her out the woman told him she had to go back in and find her pocketbook.
“I said honey, we’ve got to get out of this house because this roof is going to collapse right on both of us and we’re both going to be trapped here,” Stevenson said.
Firefighters arrived and were able to put out the flames though the home was badly damaged. Investigators say the accidental fire was electrical and began in the attic of the home. The woman was the only person inside at the time and she was not injured, thanks to Stevenson.
“I’m not sure if I was in the right place at the right time or the wrong place at the wrong time,” he said. “God had me there at the right time I guess and fortunately the girl heard me banging and the other guys yelling. She woke up and that was key.”
Even after saving the woman however, Stevenson’s day was far from over. He still had to meet with New Jersey assemblyman John Burzichelli who was taking Stevenson as his guest to Governor Christie’s final State of the State address.
“I’m thinking I’m not going to make this,” Stevenson said. “I smell like smoke. We got there just a couple of minutes before he started speaking. Then the mayor’s hat went on and I was able to meet the governor and the lieutenant governor. I had a good time listening to the speech, the state of the union speech, but the fire was on my mind the whole time.”
Stevenson admitted it was a wild day, even by his standards.
“Today was hectic but gratifying that a life was saved,” he said.
Despite saving the woman’s life, Stevenson said he was merely performing his duty.
“I don’t consider myself a hero,” he said. “I’m just a citizen with the title of mayor.”