Trapped in his dorm room by a raging fire, he felt sure he was going to die.
by Jeremy Burchfield — Posted on Feb 24, 2014
What a racket! Were they never going to quiet down? Some of us are trying to get some sleep! I thought, pressing my pillow around my head. I’d come to college, tiny Lee University in eastern Tennessee, to get serious about my studies–I couldn’t say the same for some of the other guys in my dorm.
I rolled over in my bed on the second floor of Ellis Hall, and stared wide-eyed at the clock on the end table: 2:00 a.m. Unbelievable.
In the darkness, I could see my roommate, Aaron, tossing and turning as well. Outside the door people hollered, some kind of big ruckus. Everyone besides us was apparently having a great time.
I was a freshman music major. It was early November, 1993, the school year only a couple months old. So much, still, to get used to. So many things I wasn’t sure about. I’d met a girl recently. We’d gone out on a few dates. But was she really that into me? Who could tell?
I didn’t even know if I was in the right major. I loved music, but not really Bach and Beethoven, the stuff I was studying in my music-theory class. I liked rock and roll, playing electric guitar. Back home in Alabama, friends and I had even started a band.
“God has a plan for your life,” my mother always said. “You just need to put your trust in him. God is always there for you.”
It wasn’t that I didn’t believe that, but it was hard to imagine that God was actually looking out for me personally. That he had a specific purpose set out just for me. I was simply hoping to pass music theory. Assuming I ever got to sleep. Now there was some kind of low rumbling noise. Enough already!
I switched on the lamp by my bed and stomped to the door. Aaron was right behind me. Someone was going to hear about this.
The doorknob felt warm, almost hot. Strange. I flung the door open. There was a whooshing sound. Then a blast of heat. Like I’d been thrown inside a furnace. “Fire!” screamed Aaron. He jerked me back into the room and slammed the door shut.
I couldn’t see. The heat had blinded me. I fell to the floor. “We’ve gotta get out of here!” I heard Aaron yell.
My skin, my hands, my arms, my back. They all felt like they were on fire. The pain was excruciating.
I slowly stood up and took a deep breath, my lungs filling with smoke. I fell back to the floor, choking and coughing. Dear God, help. It wasn’t a conscious thought. Just a reaction. I knew the fire was coming toward us. I was going to die. I only hoped it would be before the flames reached me.
“Grab hold of my hand!” Aaron said. “We’re going to have to go out the window.”
His voice sounded like it was coming from a million miles away. I could barely make out the words. I felt a hand grab my arm, pulling me, dragging me, across the floor. With every breath I was taking in more smoke, my lungs burning.
“Get a chair,” Aaron said. “We need to break the window. It’s our only way out.” I remembered the air-conditioning unit in the window. He wanted to break the glass above it and…then what? We’d have to jump. It seemed crazy. But I knew Aaron was right. This was our only chance. I had to try.
I crawled across the floor, my hands searching for the chair to my desk that I couldn’t see. There! Got it. I dragged the chair back to where I heard Aaron... Crash! The window shattered. With my last ounce of strength I used the chair to push myself up.
“Let’s get out of here,” Aaron said. He scrambled out the window but I couldn’t do it. My legs collapsed from under me. I lay on the floor, barely conscious, struggling just to draw a shallow breath.
I could hear the fire, a rumbling, popping, roaring horror. I knew the door couldn’t hold it back much longer. It’s over. There’s no one left. No one who can sa– I felt the collar of my pajama top slide up my neck, something tugging it. Then my body was lifted off the floor.
Something–or someone–was holding me, supporting every inch of my body.
The next thing I knew I was outside, sprawled on top of Aaron in the grass. I looked up and saw flames bursting through the roof, every window, of the dorm.
“I need to help,” I said. I tried to stand up. Everything went dark.
I drifted in and out of consciousness after that. When I finally came to I was in an intensive care unit, my hands and arms wrapped in bandages, my mom and dad next to me. They told me I’d suffered second- and third-degree burns.
“The doctor says you’re going to be fine,” Mom said. “I don’t know how you did it. How you managed to jump out of that window.”
I thought back to that moment when I was lying helplessly on the floor, five, six feet from the hole in the window. Unable to move. There was only one explanation for how I’d gotten out. God was watching over me.
I imagined him, for just an instant, stopping whatever else he was doing to send a mighty, all-powerful angel to rescue me. Me, just a mixed-up college kid. I was that important. It was mind-boggling.
I’ve thought a lot over the last 20 years about the plan God has for my life. There have been plenty of twists and turns. It took nearly a year for me to completely recover from my injuries. That girl I was dating? I ended up marrying her. We have three beautiful children.
I teach web design to high school students. Something I could have never imagined. The internet barely existed when I was a freshman studying music at Lee University.
I can’t say there’s been one amazing accomplishment, something I can point to for why I was saved that night. I don’t need to know all God’s plans for me. It’s enough for me to remember that God and his angels truly are there for all of us. Every day, and every night.
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