03/13/2006

Elderly couple saved from burning house by N.C. rookie

MICHELLE CROUCH

When rookie Stallings police Officer John McHan heard about a nearby porch fire, he stopped by to see if he could help direct traffic.

He ended up saving lives.

McHan was the first to arrive at the house on Blackberry Lane in Union County Friday night. Flames were shooting through the roof. Nobody was outside.

"That was the strangest thing: I didn't see anyone anywhere," McHan recalled. "Usually people are standing outside, crying. So I just ran in there."

He found an elderly couple in their kitchen, filling Tupperware containers with water and throwing it at the ceiling. By then, the house was filled with smoke, McHan said, and they were both coughing and gagging.

McHan tried to persuade the couple to leave. He finally got the woman out, but only after she insisted he round up her two Jack Russell terriers.

By then, a neighbor who was also a Mecklenburg County Sheriff's officer saw what was happening and arrived to help. He and McHan went back in the house to get the man, 78-year-old Lawrence Mallery. As they were leading him out, Mallery collapsed; they dragged him the rest of the way.

Mallery was in cardiac arrest, McHan said. He had no pulse.

McHan ran to his car.

Six months ago, with the help of some local women who donated a homemade quilt, the tiny Stallings police department raised enough money to buy 10 portable defibrillators -- enough to put one in every patrol car, including McHan's.

The electric jolt from the laptop-sized machine, coupled with CPR, helped restart Mallery's heart. Mallery was in good condition at Presbyterian Hospital in Charlotte Sunday night.

"It was a good thing because it was another eight minutes before anyone got there with oxygen," McHan said. "It all started when these quilting ladies donated that quilt. After that, other businesses got involved."

Two years ago, at age 59, McHan left real estate to become a police officer after his son, a Monroe police officer, suggested his father go through basic law enforcement training with him.

McHan said he hasn't looked back.

"It's not as much money," he said, "but it's so much more rewarding."

 Charlotte Observer (http://www.charlotte.com/)

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