Ex-firefighter helps save nearby home
By MAUREEN BYRNE
© St. Petersburg Times, published September 30, 2000
CLEARWATER -- Gene Rucker retired from the Clearwater Fire Department 15 years ago. But when his wife told him a neighbor's house was burning Friday morning, his firefighting tactics came to life.
As his wife called 911, Rucker ran next door, grabbed a lawn hose and began dousing the flames shooting from the front window at 1767 Hunt Lane.
"It probably just slowed it down a little," said Rucker, 77, who worked for the Clearwater Fire Deparment for 27 years.
Moments later, 25 firefighters were on the scene. Nine units responded to the 8:57 a.m. alarm. The fire was under control by 9:31 a.m., said Peter Verhoeven, an administration chief with the Clearwater Fire Department.
Sue Levy, the owner of the house, which was empty, was at work at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg when the fire started.
While Rucker was trying to put out the blaze, neighbor Alma Smullen called Levy at All Children's, where she works as a nurse.
Levy rushed home to find fire investigators in her living room, where the blaze started in an electrical outlet.
"It just appears to have shorted out," said Clearwater Fire Lt. Ruben Hernandez.
"The circuit breaker popped, but it was too late."
Most of the damage was confined to the living room and kitchen, but there was heat and smoke damage throughout the home, Verhoeven said.
"It almost went," he said. "A couple of minutes more it might have been a total loss."
Investigators estimate the damage at $100,000.
Mrs. Smullen said Levy's two dogs, Buster and Heidi, were in the back yard when the fire started. Neither dog was injured.
Levy declined comment.
After the fire was under control and Rucker visited with some of his former colleagues, he returned home to finish eating breakfast.
He said it's not the first time he's helped put out a fire. He said he pitched in last year when another neighbor's house caught on fire after lightning struck it.
"You just run into situations where you can help a little bit," he said.
- Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.
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