Pulled from the flames

EAST WATERFORD – Paula D. Hockenberry went above and beyond her job title as personal care attendant to Randi Sheaffer, of East Waterford. On June 14, Hockenberry became her hero.

Hockenberry was home alone with Sheaffer that afternoon in the log-style home owned by Brad and Blairene Sheaffer, Randi’s parents. Randi, 31, has cerebral palsy and neurodegeneration, and she needs assistance with her day to day activities, including walking, Blairene said.

On June 14, a tired Randi told Hockenberry she wanted to lie down for a bit. After Hockenberry helped her to her bed, she decided to sit down at the table with a book.

“I heard this ‘Pop! Pop!'” Hockenberry recalled. “I looked over my left shoulder and saw flames shooting through the window.”

Hockenberry reacted quickly but as calmly as she could, she said. She ran for Randi’s room and woke the woman and told her they needed to get out of the house.

“She was cooperative,” Hockenberry said.

Though she had gotten Randi into her wheelchair, Hockenberry could not simply push her out of the burning home.

“I had to have her walk down the steps out the door,” which takes Randi a bit more time than the average person, she said.

While helping Randi out of the house, Hockenberry was on her phone dialing 9-1-1 and Blairene as well.

Blairene didn’t get the message Hockenberry left on her cell phone’s voicemail until two days after the fire, due to an apparent cell phone glitch. Fortunately, a representative of Hockenberry’s employer, Consumer Resources for Independents in Lewistown, phoned Blairene and was able to reach her.

The fire moved quickly, Hockenberry said.

The personal care attendant said she looked behind her as she led Randi to the door and billowing black smoke was coming toward them. Randi told someone later she saw flames behind her as she tried to get out of the home.

Within five minutes of seeing the initial flames, Hockenberry said glass windows were breaking in the home.

It was a miracle, Blairene said, that her daughter was able to get out of there in such a short amount of time.

Once outside, Hockenberry helped Randi get to a safe spot. She then ran and grabbed one of the family dogs that was trying to head back into the house. In all, Hockenberry retrieved three dogs and put them in her Jeep. The family lost one smaller dog, Randi’s pet Shih Tzu, as well as some cats in the blaze.

Hockenberry said she watched the roof of the two-story log home cave in. She said she felt helpless, but so glad she had gotten Randi out safely.

“I’ve always learned when there’s a fire you get the people out everyone out and retrieve animals if you can. Things have to stay behind,” she said

The Sheaffers said they are grateful to the fire company from East Waterford and all who responded to the scene.

“They did what they could to keep the rest of our property from burning,” Blairene said, and they managed to save the family’s barn which had some valuables inside.

In addition to all of their personal belongings, the family lost many treasured antiques, and special cross-stitched dolls Blairene made. The house was unique in that it had a hemlock tree in the home with stairs wrapped around it to go to the top floor bedrooms. What mattered most, however, was that their daughter was spared.

“She did above and beyond to help us,” Blairene said of Hockenberry, who lives two houses away from the Sheaffers.

The cause of the fire has yet to be determined, the Sheaffers said. They are staying with family at the other end of the county until they decide what to do next.

Blairene said it was a mixed blessing that the call from Hockenberry did not show up on her phone until June 16.

“I received the original message sent to me as she was trying to get the wheelchair down the stairs with Randi in it. You can hear the fear and frustration in her voice that she couldn’t save some of our animals … I just cried and cried.”

Randi no longer likes to talk about the fire. Knowing she lost her Shih Tzu still brings her to tears.

“We are so thankful that Paula did what she could do to save our child. Randi is so precious to us. She makes me laugh with her corny sense of humor and wit. She is a true gift from God,” Blairene said.

Hockenberry, who remained with the Sheaffers, the fire volunteers and the fire marshal until 9:30 p.m., said she was just doing her job.

“When she got Randi out of the house she was no longer just a CRI aid,” Blairene said, “She is my neighbor who cared. We can never thank her enough for her bravery.”