DANVILLE — After scrambling out of her burning house in the middle of the night, Marti Washington found herself on a second-story deck with no way down.
Flames, intense heat and smoke were quickly spreading through the garage below her.
"The fire started in the garage, so I was right on top of it," said Washington, who had originally started to follow her husband, Gene Washington, out of the house toward the front door but turned back, unbeknown to him, because of the heat and smoke. She found her way out the back of their house at 1101 N. Logan Ave. and onto the deck, which at first seemed like a good choice.
But she said she could feel the heat below her feet, and flames were coming up behind her. She said she just tried to stay calm, because she knew the fire department was almost there.
Before they arrived, Gene Washington finally found his wife up on the deck but couldn't get to her.
As firefighters arrived, Gene Washington told Brock Dieu, a 25-year-old firefighter in his second year with the department, where Marti Washington was trapped.
Just a few years prior, Washington was actually involved in Dieu's hiring. As a member of the Danville police and fire board, Washington and the rest of the board determine who is eligible for police and fire department openings.
Wasting no time, Dieu said, firefighters grabbed a ladder off the truck, put it against the house and told Marti Washington to try coming down.
But she couldn't.
Dieu said there was a lot of heat, and she had to climb over the railing to get to the ladder, which was intimidating.
Marti Washington said it was just too hot.
So, Dieu put his mask on, went up the ladder, grabbed Marti Washington and carried her down the ladder.
"He climbed up and said, 'Marti, you're going with me,'" Marti Washington recalled. "If it wasn't for Brock, I would not be here."
On Nov. 7, the Mid-Illinois Chapter of the Red Cross will honor Dieu and other individuals and groups for their acts of courage and kindness at the Heartland Heroes Dinner at the Decatur Hotel and Conference Center in Decatur. A panel of judges selected Dieu to receive the Valor Award for his actions in the early morning hours of June 16. Six others will be recognized along with Dieu.
Marti Washington said she didn't realize at the time that she had only about 2 minutes of safety left on that deck. She said just after they got down the ladder, windows of the sun room that opened onto the second-floor deck blew all over the spot where she had been standing.
"It was pretty scary," said Marti Washington, who calls Dieu her hero.
Since then, she sees him occasionally when he goes into County Market, where she works in the produce department.
"I hug him every time I see him," she said.
Dieu said he appreciates the recognition from the Red Cross, but he doesn't believe his actions were special.
"There were other guys there that helped. I wouldn't be able to do it without the guys I work with and the training I had," said Dieu, who added that other firefighters held the ladder as he went up and other guys already had the hose out spraying the fire directly below her. He said if they hadn't done that, she may have suffered some injuries.
Instead, Marti Washington had some minor smoke inhalation and was treated and released the same day.
Marti Washington said she thinks it's great that Dieu is being recognized.
"It's awesome. Couldn't happen to a better person," she said.
Red Cross event scheduled
What: Mid-Illinois Chapter of the Red Cross, Heartland Heroes Dinner
When: 5:30 p.m. Nov. 7
Where: Decatur Hotel and Conference Center in Decatur
Tickets: Tickets are $50. Order by calling 217-428-7758, or go online at arcillinois.org/midilheroes or email Tara.Winter@redcross.org.