Trevor Von Buskirk doesn’t feel like a hero.
Don’t tell Steve Heyn that.
“I owe him my life,” Heyn said, crediting the 37-year-old Highland man with saving his life in a dramatic rescue shortly after 7 a.m. Wednesday.
The day started normally in the snow globe that has been southeast Michigan for the past several days.
Von Buskirk’s wife, Jen, awoke to the sound of beeping, thinking it was coming from a snowplow. Huron Valley Schools were closed for a third straight day from the massive winter storm and bone-biting cold that had settled in on the area, so she didn’t have to get the couple’s two children to school.
The actual temperature outside was 11 degrees below zero, and it felt 20 or so degrees colder. Jen burrowed deeper under the covers and dozed off. Her sleep was disturbed again, this time by the sight of a flickering orange light on the curtains of the couple’s second-floor bedroom.
Again, she thought the light was coming from the steady rotation of a snowplow’s emergency signal. Something compelled her to look again.
“Trevor! Fire!” she yelled after spotting flames shooting from the north side of the Von Buskirks’ neighbor’s home at 137 N. St. John.
Her frantic scream was like a starter-gun at a race.
“I don’t know, I just stepped out of bed and ran down the stairs, in my pajama pants and a T-shirt,” Trevor Von Buskirk said. “I did stop to put on shoes.”
His lumbering, 6-foot, 2-inch 200-pound frame made so much commotion that 9-year-old Ella Von Buskirk thought she had awoken to a home invasion and that her dad was fighting off an intruder.
By the time she realized what was actually happening, her father was already at Heyn’s home, banging on the door.
“Help me! Help me!” he heard from the other side.
A lifelong construction worker, it took Von Buskirk three or four solid kicks to break in. When the door did bust open, it went frame and all.
The ‘Breath of God’ Provided an Opening
Thick, black toxic smoke – the kind that can steal a person’s life in a few breaths – billowed out.
“I have never seen smoke like this in my life,” Von Buskirk said. “I called, ‘Are you in there?’ I had been in this house once before … I dropped down and started crawling, but couldn’t see anything. He was coughing and choking, and I could hear that he was close."
Then something happened that Von Buskirk can only explain as divine intervention.
“It must have been the breath of God,” he said. “The smoke shifted just enough that I could see his hand.”
Von Buskirk began tugging at his neighbor, pulling him to safety. They reached the concrete porch and fell back.
“My legs, my legs,” Heyn was saying. He had a double bypass two months prior and had a couple of stents in his right leg. Heyn, 63, is on disability and said walking around is difficult first thing in the morning.
“I knew he wasn’t in great shape, so I picked him up and ran over to our house,” Von Buskirk said.
That’s where firefighters and rescue units found them when they arrived shortly after receiving the emergency dispatch. Both Von Buskirk and Heyn were transported to Huron Valley-Sinai Hospital in Commerce, where Heyn remains today. Von Buskirk was treated and released.
The fire, which started in Heyn’s bathroom, was extinguished quickly. The exterior of the house doesn’t betray the drama of what happened inside and can easily be repaired, Highland Fire Chief Jim Crunk said.
Fire Victim: 'A Miracle'
Von Buskirk said he was only in the house for a couple of minutes,
but his quick action prevented a tragedy, Crunk said.
“It may have ended up as a fatal fire if he hadn’t woken up and discovered it,” Crunk said. “He did a fantastic job. We’re going to think of him as a hero and try and get him some recognition.”
Heyn, speaking to Patch from his hospital bed, said he will provide the testimony: “He’s a hero. He just reacted to it, didn’t give up."
Heyn said he was sitting on the edge of the bed listening to the news on the radio when he smelled and then saw the smoke.
“I’m not cooking anything,” he thought, wondering where it was coming from. He went to the kitchen to investigate, got to the entrance and saw the smoke was very thick and life threatening. Most of what happened next is a blur. He was becoming delirious from the smoke and knew he had to get outside. He faltered about 10 feet from the door.
Von Buskirk wears the label of hero like an ill-fitting set of clothes.
“It’s almost like somebody complimenting you and being embarrassed by it,” he said. “It was a weird day for sure. That all happened, and then I was just back at the house.
“There was no question in my mind that I wasn’t going to go in. All I knew was that he was inside and he had to get outside. I don’t feel any different. I’m just very thankful to God that we were here and everyone ended up safe.”
If anything, the experience has strengthened his faith and his conviction that he wasn’t alone as he crawled across the floor to rescue his neighbor.
“Please God,” he prayed, “don’t let me die here. Just let me get him out of here. I just thank the Lord that he’s OK and I’m OK.”
He’s thankful that he was there.
If not for the brutal weather, Jen Von Buskirk might have been driving the couple’s 16-year-old son, Gino, to an early event at school. An independent contractor, he might have been somewhere else. The Von Buskirk family has only lived in the house since November.
“The Lord," Trevor Von Buskirk said, "puts you where you’re supposed to be."
Heyn agrees. "It was a miracle how all that happened," he said.