TWO CITED FOR HEROISM IN FATAL FIRE

Kristopher Parker and Robert Womble at borough hall Wednesday night. (Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

Kristopher Parker was dropping off his grandmother at the Evergreen Terrace apartments in Red Bank when he saw the smoke from the tiny house set way back off the street and ran toward it.

Robert Womble had just finished an early supper with his grandmother at the same complex when neighbors began screaming that there was a fire next door. Out the door and over a tall chainlink fence he went.

Both men, who did not know each other, converged on the back porch of the burning house, alerted to the possibility – the awful near certainty, in fact  – that an elderly woman was inside.

“These men never hesitated, they just reacted,” said Red Bank borough Administrator and Fire Marshal Stanley Sickels. “They did what trained people hesitate to do, and they did it without helmets, without protective gear.”

What they did on September 18 was to kick in the back door, which was blocked by piles of junk, and make their way through black smoke toward to the desperate voice of Phyllis Rudrow, crawling part of the way, even as Parker communicated with a 911 dispatcher via a Bluetooth cellphone device in one ear.

“She said, ‘I’m here! I’m here,'” 31-year-old Parker recalled to redbankgreen Wednesday night. He found one hand in the darkness, and then another. “I grabbed her by the wrists and pulled her toward me, and then I carried her to the door.”

By then, firefighters and other EMTs had responded to the alarm, and took the badly burned Rudrow into their care.

Rudrow, a cousin of the late William ‘Count’ Basie, died four days later from her injuries.

“A couple of minutes earlier, that’s it” Parker said, when asked to offer a few words at a borough ceremony honoring him and Womble Wednesday night. “A couple of minutes earlier, and maybe Mrs. Rudrow would still be here. But we had to put ourselves out there.”

“I just feel like God had me in the right place at the right time,” said Womble.

The two men had never before met.

Womble is 51 years old, a lifelong Red Banker, former sports star  – the second player in the history of the former Red Bank High School to rack up 1,000 basketball points he says with a laugh  – who now works in the supply department at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Lyons.

He’d known 64-year-old Rudrow his entire life. They were co-congregants of the Shrewsbury Avenue A.M.E. Zion Church, just steps away from Rudrow’s house on Drs. James Parker Boulevard.

A 31-year-old teacher, Parker didn’t know Rudrow. He grew up in Red Bank and now lives in Long Branch, but “this town made me what I am,” he said, after Mayor Pasquale Menna and each of the six members of the borough council heaped warm praise on him and Womble.

Menna called their attempt to save Rudrow “an extraordinary act of self-sacrifice.”