Boy saved from fire brought back to life

By Patrick Boyle
The Washington Times
Aug. 11, 1989

The seemingly lifeless body of a 6-year-old boy was tossed from the window of his burning home yesterday and landed in the arms of someone who wouldn't let him die.

A District firefighter and an off-duty ambulance worker, who lives next door to the boy, pumped breath back into Hassan Abdelguader as he lay on the lawn of his Northeast apartment building. They thought they might fail, one rescuer said, until they heard him gasp.

"There's just nothing like the sound of life," said a beaming Cassandra Johnson, the neighbor and emergency medical technician who helped save Hassan.

"The little boy was dead in there," said another neighbor who watched the near tragedy. "They brought him back."

Hassan and his 7-year-old sister, Jessica, were rushed to Children's Hospital for treatment of smoke inhalation, the D.C. Fire Department said. Hassan was listed in serious condition, and his sister was listed as fair. Firefighter William Hudson, who worked with Mrs. Johnson to save the boy, was treated at a hospital for smoke inhalation and released, the Fire Department said.

For a while, neighbors said, it seemed that the children might perish in the blaze that started yesterday morning in the kitchen of their home on the 2000 block of Maryland Avenue NE.

"I saw smoke, then fire on the inside," said a neighbor who was outside when the fire began in the second-floor apartment shortly after 8 a.m. She said the mother had left the apartment, then couldn't get back in because the door had locked behind her.

The mother said something about leaving a pot on the stove, the neighbor said.

Mrs. Johnson was in her third-floor apartment in the next building, preparing to enjoy her day off.

"My stepson told me there was a fire," said Mrs. Johnson, who then went outside. "The mother was screaming when I first came down. There was a lot of heavy smoke coming out of her apartment. The mother was saying her children were in there."

Several men tried to open the apartment door but couldn't, the neighbor said. Then Jessica appeared at a window that is about 10 feet off the ground.

"The little girl was crying. . . . She didn't want to jump out the window," said the neighbor. "The mother kept saying, 'Jump! Jump!'"

Other neighbors got the apartment door open. A man rushed in, found Jessica, and tossed her out the window to the adults waiting below, Mrs. Johnson said. Then he jumped out the window, too, said the neighbor.

Yet another neighbor rushed in to find Hassan.

"He [the neighbor] couldn't see," she said. "They couldn't find the son.

The smoke was too thick."

Then firefighters arrived from Engine Co. No. 10. Two of them - Firefighters Hudson and Robert Webster - made their way through the apartment, their equipment shielding them from the smoke. Mr. Webster found the boy and handed him to Mr. Hudson, the Fire Department said. Mrs. Johnson said Mr. Hudson tossed the boy from the window into her arms.

"We took his vital signs; we didn't get anything," she said.

She then described how she and Mr. Hudson, who quickly came out of the apartment, began working on Hassan. Mrs. Johnson cleared an air passage down the child's throat and inserted a tube to pump in oxygen, while Mr. Hudson compressed his chest to get his lungs working. At one point, Mrs. Johnson said, she had to suck saliva and black smoke from Hassan's mouth.

It was a little more than three minutes before they heard a sound from him, she said. She smiled and laughed when she thought of that moment.

"When he opened his eyes, we were so happy," she said. "When we first got him back, he moved, and he started to cry."

The Fire Department had no information yesterday on the name or condition of the mother.

Mrs. Johnson has been an emergency medical technician for three years but said she never has saved someone's life off duty. Her excitement still showed yesterday afternoon when she described what it was like to save the boy.

"When you can bring them back, that's the reward," she said. "It makes it seem that you're doing something right."

"Thank you, Jesus, they brought him back," the neighbor said.