Paraplegic killed in Birmingham house fire

By Melanie Posey

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - A Birmingham man died in a house fire early Friday morning after his mother tried desperately to save him.  

Flames broke out at 1665 Waco Avenue Southwest around 4:40 Friday morning.  They started in 30-year old Johnny Wood's bedroom.  Wood was a paraplegic confined to a wheelchair since a car accident in 2000.  

"He was a really nice person, a really big people person.  He tried to do everything to help everybody," said Sonya Laguna, Wood's next door neighbor.   

Officials say Wood woke to smoke in his room and called his mom who was just a few rooms away.  Francis Wood tried to drag her from the home, but the smoke and flames became too much.  She ran outside to get help.  

"We called 9-1-1 and told them there's a man trapped inside and we need them here and now," Laguna said.  "We know for a fact it was about 20 minutes or more before we got there."

Birmingham Fire Battalion Chief C.W. Mardis said the call came in at 4:41 and crews arrived at 4:46.  He adds that the three nearest fire stations were already on another house fire at 2001 Pearson Court when the call from Woods' home came in.  

"You can't take firefighters off one scene to go to another scene," Mardis explained.  "That would be abandonment."  

Instead, the department's policy is to pull from the next nearest station, which in this case, was located near Legion Field.  Mardis said dispatch records show that crew arriving on the scene just five minutes later.  

"A  five-minute response time in a situation like that seems like a lifetime, and obviously, in this situation, it was a lifetime," Mardis said.  "But our guys did respond promptly and mitigate the scene as they should have."

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