Friday, September 26, 1997
Everyday hero heads home

BY CLIFF RADEL
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Jerrold Ware's going home today.

ware
Jerrold Ware manages a smile Thursday in his room at University Hospital.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
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Barring any changes in his condition, the Cincinnati firefighter plans to walk out of University Hospital's burns unit on his own. Once he's home, Jerrold has the rest of his day all plotted out. Hug his three girls. Sit on the couch. Rest.

But first, he wants to say a few words at a short press conference at the hospital.

Jerrold Ware wants to say thanks.

He wants to thank a community that has been praising his work and praying for him since he was injured Aug. 30 while trying to save a child from a burning apartment.

Jerrold Ware was the first man up the smoke-filled stairs that day. At the top of the stairs he was caught in an explosion of flame, searing heat and air - a flashover. The heat inflamed his lungs and burned his face, neck and fingers. Trying to escape, he dropped from a fourth-floor window, smashed through power lines and slammed into the ground on top of his air tank.

The girl in the burning apartment was saved by other firefighters. But the story of Jerrold's courage and injuries touched the community's heart.

fire building
Lt. Ware fell out of a fourth-floor apartment window at this North Fairmount building.
(Tony Jones photo)
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Hundreds of messages flooded the hospital these past few weeks. Thursday afternoon, the get-well cards still lined the walls of his hospital room. Some are the size of posters. Just as many are store-bought as they are homemade.

These are cards from strangers. Three big cardboard boxes full of cards from people who want him to know they care.

"I hope you are feeling better," Courtney Tulker wrote, her little-girl handwriting struggling to stay in the lines on a piece of brown, grade-school paper. "I will pray for you."

He believes the prayers saved him.

"People I don't even know - whole churches of people, I hear - prayed for me. They helped me get better," Jerrold says as he eases his muscular frame into a bedside chair.

Just back from a slow walk around the ward, he looks at the cards in wonder.

"I'm overwhelmed. And surprised.

"I didn't know so many people cared."

He stops to cough, something he does every few sentences.

Before talking again, he takes a sip of Sprite from an ice-filled Styrofoam cup.

"I keep my throat wet so I can talk better," he says in a voice that grows hoarse, clears up and then goes hoarse again.

Monique, Jerrold's wife, sits on the edge of his bed. While her husband sips more Sprite, she talks about his voice.

When he came to after the fire and all the breathing tubes were removed from his throat, Jerrold could only whisper.

But then his wife brought his three daughters to see him last week.

"His voice just snapped back," Monique says.

In good healthy tones, he called to his girls by name.

"Kailah."

"Christianna."

"Taylor."

Monique beams at her husband. Wanting him to look his best, even in a robe, hospital duds and slippers, she tells him he has something on his lips. He wipes his mouth with the back of his right hand, his good hand.

His left hand rests in his lap. The fingers are bandaged and blistered. His left arm is in a sling.

"My left side is all messed up," he says. He rubs his left shoulder and stretches the same side of his neck by looking up to the ceiling. Above his head, a card hangs from the wall. Its message is easy to read.

"God loves you," it says in an unsigned hand. "You're a hero." Jerrold Ware winces at that last word.

"I'm no hero," he says. "I was just doing my job."

The cards and letters disagree. And so do I. Jerrold Ware may have been on the job. But he went above and beyond the call of duty to save a life. That's a hero.

"I don't feel like a hero," he protests. "What's a hero supposed to feel like?"

This hero doesn't feel lucky.

"Lucky is when five guys crawl out on a ledge and jump off," he says. "The lucky one lives."

Jerrold crawled out on a window ledge to escape a fire's heat that he calls, "intense," "oppressive" and "hotter than the orange glow of the flames that I could see in the distance." He squints as he says the words, as if he can still feel the heat. He remembers yelling for help. He remembers everything about that day.

A little girl was screaming for help. The memory of the sound she made makes his eyes water, his lips quiver.

He remembers rushing up the apartment building's steps and being bowled over by the heat, crawling on his stomach to the window. The window wouldn't open. Its metal frame was sagging from the heat. The firefighter smashed the window and went out on the ledge. Hanging by one hand he started to pray. "Then I was just talking with God."

"Lord, it looks like I might have to let go."

"As soon as I said that, it was like I was floating. I didn't fall or jump. I never felt the impact. I never felt my left arm shatter. "I didn't notice my helmet wasn't on and that my left ear was burned."

He motions to the ear, pink and raw from the burns and glistening with ointment.

"I never lost consciousness," he adds proudly. "I heard the guys talking. I felt them pick me up and put me on the stretcher." He felt something else.

"It was the good Lord's presence," he says. "God covered me with love."

That's why Jerrold Ware doesn't feel lucky to be alive.

"I feel blessed."

Previous stories

TRUE HEROISM COMES OFF THE FIELD Paul Daugherty column, Sept. 21, 1997
FIREMAN'S HEROISM IN CHARACTER Cliff Radel column, Sept. 5, 1997
OWNERS FACE CHARGES IN FIRE Sept. 3, 1997
RESCUED GIRL, MOM PRAY FOR FIREFIGHTER Sept. 2, 1997
BURNED RESCUER ASKS FATE OF LITTLE GIRL Sept. 1, 1997
FELLOW FIREFIGHTER KNOWS WARE'S PAIN Sept. 1, 1997
SIXTH SENSE WARNED OF DANGER Sept. 1, 1997
FOUR FIREFIGHTERS HURT IN RESCUE Aug. 31, 1997
HOW IT HAPPENED (96K GIF) Aug. 31, 1997

< Cliff Radel's column appears in The Enquirer Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Call 768-8379 or fax at 768-8340.

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