"Scared to death," is how 10-year-old Samantha Henson described her feelings on Sunday afternoon, January 19, when her house was on fire. Yet the fourth grader at Rutherfordton Elementary put into action what she learned at school about how to escape a house fire. She saved not only her own life but her stepmom, Samantha's life when their house on Maple Creek Road caught fire.
"I said drop to your hands and knees and we crawled out the door," Samantha said Wednesday morning at Rutherfordton Elementary School where she was recognized by Rutherfordton Fire & Rescue, the Town of Rutherfordton and her school for her heroic efforts.
The home she shared with her stepmom, her dad Samuel Henson and little brother, Dakota Henson, 8, was destroyed by a fire that originated outside the house. Dad and Dakota escaped just minutes earlier than Samantha and her stepmom.
Had it not been for Samantha's directions and encouragement to her stepmom that she said she learned from the firefighters, they would have died from smoke inhalation, a doctor told the stepmom after the fire.
The origin of the fire was outside the front door and because of high winds that afternoon, the fire quickly spread and the inside of the home became filled with smoke.
Samuel said the family was in the kitchen that Sunday afternoon when they smelled something burning.
He noticed an orange glow around the front door and when he opened the door, the fire was roaring and spreading.
Shutting the front door which was the primary entrance to the home, the family ran to the back porch of the home, but there was no escape there because there were no steps.
Samuel said the only way out was to move a couch that was in front of another door. He moved the couch and he and 8-year-old Dakota went out. But Samantha and her stepmom were still on the porch.
The plan was for Samuel to have his wife and daughter jump from the porch and he would catch them, but the house was filling with smoke.
That's when Samantha yelled for her stepmom to drop to her hands and knees. "We crawled out," the little girl quietly said.
"It seemed like a long time to get out," Samantha said.
Samantha had received the fire training at school from Rutherfordton Fire & Rescue and had also gone into the Rutherford County Firefighters Smoke House and learned how to get out of a burning house.
Samantha relayed this story to her fourth grade teacher Nicole Benfield when she returned to school and she relayed the story to Rutherfordton Fire Chief Brandon Harrill.
"We don't usually get to hear the good stories," Harrill said. "It is good news when we can hear something like this when the training matters."
Before an audience of her fourth grade peers, fire officials, town officials, family and school staff, Harrill presented Samantha a certificate of heroism and a bright red T-shirt.
Mayor Jimmy Dancy told Samantha she was an example for other children to always listen and remember what the teachers are saying. He presented her a gift certificate for ice cream at Scoops in Rutherfordton and gave her a business card and told her to use it if she needed him.
"She paid attention and knew how to get her and stepmom from the house," said Harrill.
Town Manager Doug Barrick presented Samantha and her family a monetary donation collected by town employees.
"She had the courage to remember what she learned in a time of need," Barrick said.
Firefighters from four departments were dispatched to the fire and firemen would later help the children bury their three cats that perished in the fire.
Help also came that day from the childrens' mother, April Van Arnhem, their grandparents, Stanley and Patricia Henson, and other family and friends.
Since the devastating fire, the community has come together to collect household items, clothing and another home.
Right now the family is in a cabin out in Golden Valley while a Recreational Vehicle (RV) is being made ready for the family. They hope to get another home someday.
The Henson purchased the Maple Street house in August.
Anyone wishing to help the family, especially with appliances, can call Samuel Henson at 828-202-1204.