A home in Van Buren Township was engulfed in flames earlier this month, when John Henderson and his partner were the first fire crew to arrive on the scene.
“When we got there, the fire was through the roof,” said John.
Police were already on scene. John did not even have his helmet on yet when officers told him a little girl was trapped inside.
With flames waste-high near the door, and without a second thought, John dove inside. As he army-crawled through the flames, he felt around through the smoke to find the toddler.
Eighteen-month-old A’mariyana Wells, known as Mari, was further away from the door than John had thought.
"I felt something soft. I crawled a little bit further and I felt her. I grabbed a handful of t-shirt or whatever she was wearing and I made it for the door,” said John. “Because it was burning so hot, it was sucking a good flow of air in. I think that’s the only thing that protected her and me.”
Mari’s 14-year-old uncle was able to get Mari as close to the entrance as he could, before he tragically died in the fire.
Once out of the burning house, John handed Mari to first responders. Catching his breath, he realized what had just happened.
“There is a list of things you shouldn’t do and I pretty much did all of them and I got lucky and got away with it,” said John.
John has since visited Mari, at University of Michigan CS Mott Children’s Hospital. Her family cannot thank him enough for risking his life for the toddler.
When 7 Action News asked him about his bravery, he was humble.
“I happened to be the guy in the right place, at the right time, with the right gear,” says John. “I give all of the credit to the police. They tried to get in there, but obviously it was too hot for them. There’s no way they could have ever done it. If they hadn’t been there and responded as fast as they did to hear the child crying and point the kid out, I couldn’t have got in there.”
Mari has a long fight ahead of her. She is hooked up to a ventilator and has burns to over 50 percent of her body.
The Shriners have offered to help the family with the cost of future surgeries.