Chief Tolson: Jonathan Gladden is a hero

Gladden saves neighbor from house fire
Oct. 29, 2013 @ 02:01 PM

Black smoke interrupted an otherwise normal Saturday afternoon of watching college football at Jonathan Gladden's home.

Gladden's 8-year-old son, Jonathan Jr., came inside at approximately 3:30 p.m. and told his father smoke was coming from the neighbor's house at 321 Martin Luther King Blvd. Thinking it was nothing more than a charcoal grill readying for dinner, Gladden, who lives at 328 Carroll St., got up to have a look.

"My son was in the backyard and came in and said 'Daddy, I think Mr. Ellison's house is on fire," Gladden said. "He said he saw smoke coming from the windows and out the door. I went out to his back door and kind of yelled his name out but didn't hear anything."

Unable to see inside the house, as smoke started bellowing from the structure, Gladden faced a decision.

"When I stepped up on the porch I actually thought the door was closed," said Gladden. "I thought it was a glass storm door and it was closed. I opened the screen door and smoke just came out. The door was actually open but the smoke made it look black and dark. It pushed me back a little bit."

Gladden saw no sign of his neighbor, James Ellison, through the smoke and told his wife to call the fire department. Using his shirt as an air filter, Gladden stepped through the door, calling out Ellison's name, hoping to hear something.

He did.

"I kind of heard him grunt," Gladden said. "I went in a couple of feet and he actually was laying down right in front of me, lying down on his stomach like he was trying to get out of the house. I grabbed him and picked him up over my shoulder and took him out. You couldn't see right in front of you. He was laying down at my feet and I couldn't even see him, I just heard him."

According to Gladden, Ellison said the fire started on the stove and he unsuccessfully tried to put it out. Thomasville Fire Department arrived moments later.

As emergency personnel loaded Ellison into the hospital, the two men brought together under extreme circumstances exchanged a final pleasantry.

"He just took my hand and kept saying 'thank you, thank,'" said Gladden. "It kind of got emotional."

Ellison suffered only minor injuries and on Sunday was released from Novant Health Thomasville Medical Center. Gladden said a couple of showers eventually washed away the smell of smoke, but the memories of what happened on Saturday will stay with him for some time.

"To me, it was just the right thing to do,” Gladden said. “I didn't think twice about going in. If I wouldn't have went I never would've known he was in there and I would've had to live with that for the rest of my life, knowing that I didn't do enough."  

According to Thomasville Fire Department Battalion Chief Kevin Colson, a cooking fire started in the kitchen and spread quickly, leaving the home a total loss.

“[Gladden] was the hero,” said Tolson. “A few more minutes and we would probably be dealing with a fatality had he not pulled this man out and saved his life. By the time we got there the house was full of smoke. It was bad.”  

Staff Writer Eliot Duke can be reached at 888-3578, or