SHOUT OUT: No one attending a “Friendsgiving” dinner seemed to quite know how to react as smoke from a kitchen stove fire quickly filled an Edgewater condo, so Whitney Rodriguez of Lodi began throwing their clothes and other belongings into the hallway, then grabbed a towel and oven mitt and tried to beat back the flames.
By the time a firefighter got Rodriguez out of the Avalon apartment off River Road, the smoke had burned her throat and vocal cords.
All that the 33-year-old former ambulance worker cared about was that the fire was snuffed and none of her loved ones was hurt.
Unable to eat, talk or swallow comfortably since Saturday night’s scare, Rodriguez continued receiving gifts, visitors and well wishes this morning at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center as she recovered from thermal burns to her nose and throat.
“Every Hero Needs Flowers” reads a balloon in an arrangement delivered to her room yesterday.
“I might be a hero,” wrote Rodriguez, who has asthma, “but I’m far from invincible….My vocal cords are a mess. I still can’t breathe too well. I’m on oxygen and bed rest — and no talking.”
And this at a time when Rodriguez has plenty to say about how we all prepare ourselves for the possibility of a fire or other emergency.
Although others were unsure what to do when the stove fire erupted, “I used to be an EMT,” Rodriguez told CLIFFVIEW PILOT. “Luckily I work well under pressure.
“The smoke was so dark,” she wrote in an online conversation. “I couldn’t believe how quickly the flames started to engulf the top of the stove.
“Before we knew it, the smoke had us all choking.
“I started trying to get my friends and kids out,” Rodriguez told CLIFFVIEW PILOT, “but people were trying to get dressed. Some were crying or screaming. They weren’t responding to me.
“So I grabbed people’s coats and shoes and began throwing them out into the hall.
“I managed to get a group of people out, then I went back inside and started yelling for my friend to call 911,” she added, “but she was just running around. So I started throwing THEIR stuff into the hallway.
“The smoke was so thick by this time, you had to get down low so you could see. I asked where the fire extinguisher was, but no one could answer me.
“My friend came back and tried to get me out, but I couldn’t hear the fire department coming and I was afraid that the apartment might just go up.
“So I turned off the gas and tried moving things off the stove and out of the oven. I could barely see,” Rodriguez said. “Then I started beating the fire with a towel in one hand and a pot holder in the other.
“I couldn’t breathe, but I must have been running on adrenaline. I wanted to leave, but I couldn’t. I ran to the back again to make sure that everyone was out.”
Damage was confined to the kitchen.
Firefighters were later ventilating the unit when one of them checked on Rodriguez.
“At first I didn’t want to go to the hospital,” she told CLIFFVIEW PILOT, “but I couldn’t talk and I could feel my throat burning down and deep.”
Those attending to her at EHMC contacted their counterparts at St. Barnabas Hospital in Livingston.
“Since my throat wasn’t swollen shut or blistering, I was stable,” Rodriguez said.
“I couldn’t talk, I could barely breathe but I didn’t need to be intubated.
“By that time my friends were at the hospital thanking me for saving their lives and their kids’ lives — and, of course, saving the turkey,” she typed with a smile.
“I have thermal burns to my throat and nose my vocal chords are inflamed and my carbon monoxide levels are high due to the smoke inhalation. But I’m here. I’m lucky.”
Rodriguez is also intent on getting an important message across.
“People need emergency plans,” she wrote. “They need to know where the nearest fire extinguisher is. They need to have their own in the apartment.
“DO NOT GET DRESSED IN A BURNING APARTMENT.”
Imagine it, Rodriguez added: People you love all in one space that is suddenly on fire.
Imagine it, because it happens, she said.
“I’m so grateful that my friends and their kids are OK because you never know,” she wrote. “And the outpouring of well wishes has been amazing.
“But, really, I wish I could sit down each person I care about and ask them, ‘What’s YOUR plan to stay alive?’ “
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