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Hometown hero: Boy saves family, others from fire

September 25, 2012
By Jenny Lancour - staff writer ( , Daily Press

ESCANABA - An Escanaba boy is being credited for saving the lives of his family and others after he awoke to a fire in his bedroom wall and alerted those in his apartment.

Collyn Olson, 9, was lying in his bed on the night of Sept. 14 when he heard some strange noises coming from the wall right next to him shortly before 11 p.m.

"I was half asleep. It was a sparking noise," Collyn said, as he explained the noise sounded like it was coming from the outlet alongside his bed. He pulled his extension cord out and flames "shot out" of the outlet, he said.

Article Photos

Above, Erin Lee gives her 9-year-old son, Collyn Olson, a big hug for his role in alerting family members and others about a fire in their apartment complex earlier this month. (Daily Press photo by Jenny Lancour)

Collyn said he grabbed his blanket to try to put out the fire. When that didn't work, he went to wake up his mom's friend, Melissa Foster, who was sleeping in the living room, on the other side of his bedroom wall.

Melissa got Collyn and three other children in the two-bedroom upstairs apartment out of the building, then alerted other tenants by banging on their doors, explained Collyn's mother, Erin Lee, during an interview with the Daily Press on Sunday.

At the time of the fire, Erin was bartending at Mayrand's just down the street from the apartment complex, which is located at 823 2nd Ave. S.

"If it wasn't for him... If he would have been asleep...," Erin said as she shook her head. "Honestly, if it wasn't for him, I would honestly have nothing at all. I would have lost everything and everyone."

Besides Erin's son, Collyn, and her friend, Melissa, three other children were in the burning apartment: Erin's 21-month-old daughter, Daphne; Erin's 10-year-old daughter, Ricki, and Melissa's 9-year-old daughter, Jade.

Erin said it was just two days before the fire that she had moved her son into the smaller bedroom. The baby's crib was there before and was later moved to share the second bedroom with Ricki, the mother recalled, imagining a much more tragic scenario had the toddler been sleeping in that room and not Collyn, who heard the fire and alerted others.

Det. Lt. Darin Hunter said Escanaba Public Safety will be recognizing Collyn for saving the lives of others.

"His action probably prevented casualties within that apartment. He did an outstanding job," said Hunter on Monday.

Erin and her family had lived in the apartment since January 2011. Melissa and her daughter had been staying with them for just a few days.

After the fire broke out, they were lodged for one night at the Best Western Pioneer Inn. Since then, Erin and her two older children and Melissa's dog, "Mo," have been living at the Hiawatha Motel where they are allowed to stay a few more days. Daphne has been living with Erin's mother since the fire. Melissa and her daughter are staying at a friend's house.

Two dogs - the Lee family's "Kahlua" and Jade's "Maria," a 16-month-old puppy of Kahlua - did not survive the blaze. Melissa's dog, "Mo," had escaped the burning building and was found several blocks away on the doorstep of his former residence, said Erin.

Though the family lost almost everything in the fire, Erin said the children are suffering the loss of the two pets the most.

"Our apartment was a total loss," she said.

Erin was able to recover a ceramic dog sculpture, a hand-made picture frame, and a small pile of photographs that were in a dresser drawer. The family's fire-damaged television set and a Nintendo Wii system were taken by looters sometime after the blaze was put out, said Erin.

The kids' bikes were ruined by the melted siding but were kindly replaced by Mr. Bike and Ski of Escanaba, she added.

The Red Cross and Salvation Army have helped the family out with immediate needs and temporary lodging. Erin said her boss at the Broad Axe Saloon in Hermansville has a one-bedroom apartment available for them to rent.

Hunter said the cause of the fire is undetermined but contributing factors show the fire was electrical-related and accidental. The upstairs northeast corner apartment suffered major fire, smoke and water damage, while the remaining structure suffered major smoke and water damage, he said.

Everyone escaped from the burning structure without any injuries. The tenants were provided shelter assistance.

Ford River Fire and Rescue provided mutual aid to Escanaba Public Safety firefighters. Michigan State Police, Delta County Sheriff Department, and Rampart Emergency Medical Services also assisted at the scene.



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