Annie Draves was on her way to work when she spotted smoke, so she took a detour to see if anyone needed help.
She arrived at 210 Fletcher St. at 5:30 p.m. last Wednesday before any fire trucks had arrived, and she saw 102-year-old Grace Sairo standing in a smoke-filled doorway screaming for help. Draves and another unidentified passer-by got out of their cars and helped guide Sairo to the safety of a neighbor's house. Sairo was treated by paramedics for minor smoke inhalation but did not need to be hospitalized.
On Tuesday the City of Tonawanda Common Council and Fire Chief Charles Stuart honored the 21-year-old Draves with a proclamation and a standing ovation for her heroic efforts in coming to the aid of Sairo.
"It was an absolute miracle that 102-year-old Grace (Sairo) escaped the fire," said Fire Chaplain Rick Oates.
Draves, a senior at Canisius College majoring in health education and a 2014 graduate of Tonawanda High School, blushed at all the unwanted attention.
"You care for others because that is what you are taught," said Draves.
Sairo's neighbors, Patricia and Russ Bachman and their daughter Larissa, who was visiting her parents, also were honored for welcoming Sairo into their home and staying by her side for more than three hours until overnight lodgings could be arranged through the Red Cross.
Sairo's daughter, Grace Mongold, lives with her mother and owns the Fletcher Street house. Damages to the two-story house and its contents were listed at $130,000.
"Everything is melted and burnt," said Mongold, who was not home when the fire occurred.
She said her neighbors were wonderful, with everyone going out of their way to help her family on that stormy night.
"I can't say enough good things about them," added Mongold. "It was a wet terrible night. To come home and find your house on fire – it was such a shock."
Mongold had a special thanks to Draves and the other Good Samaritan who helped her mother.
"What can I say to her. Oh my God. It was wonderful that she cared enough to stop and take an interest in what was going on. She obviously saved my mother's life. How can you thank somebody enough," said Mongold.
Stuart said the fire appears to have been accidental. He said Sairo was making some toast for herself and fell asleep, and the toaster oven started the fire. Stuart noted that there were no working smoke alarms in the house.
Stuart also noted that this is the second time in less than six months that a young person has gone out of their way to help a neighbor when passing by a fire. In May, Cassandra Butzer stopped her car and alerted the owner that his house was on fire.