© 2010 Aaron Atkinson

My Dad, The Lifesaver

From the Des Moines Register – 12/18/2001

A chauffeur and his passenger roused a Des Moines family from sound sleep early Monday as fire and smoke was spreading through their house on Beaver Avenue.

Troy Leyda, Rhonda Clark-Leyda and their 2-year-old, Mary Grace, escaped without injury – and firefighters rescued their Christmas presents.

“I think they saved our lives,” Clark-Leyda said of the men who were driving by. “We woke up to the dog barking and someone pounding fiercely on our door. The house was filling up with smoke.”

The fire, apparently started by an electric Christmas candle falling from a window ledge in an attic dormer, was spotted by Scott Woodruff, owner of Majestic Limousine Service.

“I just saw it peripherally,” Woodruff said. “It was a little after 5 a.m. It was dark out and we were headed for the airport. It was an orange glow. I thought it almost looked fake. I said, “Jim, look at that.” ”

Jim Atkinson, an employee of Pioneer Hi-Bred who was getting a ride to catch a flight out of town, said, “It’s on fire.”

Woodruff pulled over on Beaver Avenue and took out his cell phone. He called 911 while Atkinson sprinted to the door to find the address.

Woodruff passed the address along to fire dispatchers, and Atkinson continued pounding on the door. Woodruff went to the side door and began pounding. Atkinson put his shoulder to the door to see if he could bash it open. Suddenly a dog yelped inside as if it had been startled.

“A woman finally came to the door with a baby in her arms,” Woodruff said. “We told her the house was on fire, and she said, “What do you mean?” We said again that the house was on fire.”

Atkinson said flames two or three feet high were coming out of an attic window when they first arrived. A few minutes later, flames were eight to 10 feet high and coming out of another window. “It was happening in a hurry,” Atkinson said.

Clark-Leyda said of her two rescuers, “About half an hour after we were out of the house, the limousine driver said something like, “I need to get Jim to the airport.” I didn’t realize they needed to be someplace. They stayed with us until they knew everything was going to be all right.”

Atkinson caught his flight. It had been delayed.


  1. Posted November 29, 2010 at 1:09 pm | #

    I didn’t know this story! What a tale!

  2. Aaron Atkinson
    Posted December 1, 2010 at 3:26 am | #

    Dave, when I initially saw your comment, I thought it might have been about your dad’s skunk story. Now that’s a tail!

  3. Ruth Anne Henault
    Posted December 3, 2010 at 3:40 am | #

    How come I’ve never heard that one either?! That’s my brave and bold baby brother…!

  4. Aaron Atkinson
    Posted December 3, 2010 at 2:09 pm | #

    You guys must not get the Des Moines Register. That’s odd… 😉

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