Man rescued from fire near UT campus reunites with responders who saved him

Austin
Park Avenue Apartment fire 2

AUSTIN (KXAN) — You could say Johnny Atchinson walked through the fire and was not burned. He woke up to flames blocking his door and pouring in through his window one-night last month.

“They didn’t even save the clothes on his back,” said Joseph Gleeson, a close friend of Atchinson’s. 

The fire started at the Park Avenue Place Apartment complex located at 306 E. 30th St. near the University of Texas campus back on March 31 around 2:30 a.m. 

Officers with the Austin Police Department made it to the complex first and could hear Atchinson’s cries for help, but with flames already blocking the stairs leading up to his apartment, they had no way of getting in. 

The A-shift crew with Quint 3 was dispatched to the fire, but the 911 call had come from the intersection of Tom Green and East 31st Streets, which is north of where the fire actually started. 

Thankfully, Fire Specialist James Parker spotted a column of smoke while on the way to the fire, and instead of going to the address they were dispatched to, he followed what he saw and found the fire. It was started in the dumpster of an alleyway between 30th and 31st Streets and flames blew through to the two-story complex. 

As Captain Jim Ryan was gathering and analyzing information that would influence what fire officers and firefighters would do next, that is when they heard Atchison was trapped in his two-story apartment. 

The clock ticked by

Firefighter Louis Jahn somehow managed to keep water on the stairwell long enough for Captain Ryan and firefighter Andrew Ratoza to get up to the second floor and rescue Atchison. Austin-Travis County EMS then took him to the hospital with life-threatening injuries. 

Last week, Atchison got the chance to reunite with the first responders who saved him from the burning flames. “God bless you. Brothers, I love you, man,” Atchison wrote on a dry erase board. It was under much different circumstances.

“He’s just a genuinely caring person, when he walks into a room, it really does light up,” Gleeson said. “He’s really good to talk to if you got anything going on and he’s very pleasant.”

At last report, Atchinson was breathing on his own and is out of the ICU. As Gleeson understands, he is expected to make a full recovery.

“Special thanks to our partners at APD for their efforts during this call; without their knowledge of exactly where Atchinson was located, our crew’s rescue mission could have easily become one of recovery,” a post on the fire department’s Facebook page said. 

Damage

Fire investigators said Thursday smoking materials that weren’t put out properly are what ultimately caused the fire. 

Atchinson lost almost all of his belongings. “He lost everything except for a few a mementos that were his grandmothers and a few clothes,” Gleeson said. He created a GoFundMe with a goal of raising $5,000 to help Atchinson once he gets out of the hospital.

The Austin Fire Department said at the time that the fire caused an estimated $250,000 in damage to the structure of the apartment building and another $50,000 worth of estimated damage to the contents.

Two apartment units had fire damage and 10 others suffered fire control, smoke and water damage. All the residents of the 32-unit apartment building, which is estimated to be about 40 people, were displaced by the fire.

UT students and staff impacted by the fire

The University of Texas at Austin heard from about 20 students and staff who were impacted by the fire that night. 

The Dean of Student had put out a call on Twitter for anyone from UT to reach out to their office if they were affected.

Kelly Soucy, the Director of Student Emergency Services, said their office provided money and emergency housing for students while they were looking for somewhere to stay. That money came from their student emergency fund, which is largely made up of donations and often used to support students in situations just like this one. 

Her office representatives also put students in touch with the Red Cross. 

It is unknown whether any students or staff are back in their units since the fire. 

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