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Teen saves neighbors from chimney fire

Sixteen-year-old Austin Nelson, of McDonough, said he does not "feel like a hero," for helping to save his elderly neighbors from a potential disaster at their home.

"I mean, if I hadn't done it, the worst could have happened," said Nelson.

The teenager, a junior at Ola High School, assisted in extinguishing a fire Sunday, around 3 p.m., at 1487 McGarity Road in McDonough. Nelson lives across the street from where the incident occurred. He was visiting a friend, when he saw smoke coming from the neighbor's chimney.

"We were talking about it for a second, and it started getting bigger," said Nelson. "I got on my four-wheeler, drove over there and knocked on the door."

Nelson's mother, Donna Gilchrist, was at home at the time of the incident. She did not see the smoke billowing from the neighbor's house. "I didn't realize that it had caught on fire," said Gilchrist, 48. "[Nelson] took off on his four-wheeler, and my husband said he saw him run down the road and go across the street. Then, I saw my other neighbors ... and they were all running to the house to see what's going on."

The neighbor at the affected house, Edward Duffy, 80, has lived there for seven years. He said he was watching television with his wife, Sarah Lois, 77, when he saw Nelson outside his home. He did not know about the fire until he saw Nelson.

"I saw his shadow in the doorway, and I came to the door," explained Duffy. "He said, ‘Your chimney's on fire.' the time we came out, it started blazing up."

Duffy then asked Nelson to call for help. "I called the fire department and then, ran and got their hose," said Nelson. "I ran it all the way back to the chimney, and I started squirting it until the fire department got there."

Henry County Fire Division Chief of Operations Brad Johnson said that, when firefighters arrived, the smoke had spread to the attic of Duffy's home. Johnson commended Nelson for his actions in helping to save the Duffys and their home.

"It is very important for our community to be vigilant to our neighbors, and assist in each other's day-to-day safety," Johnson said.

Gilchrist, Nelson's mother, said she is proud of her son. "If it hadn't been that he caught it, and caught it early ... it easily could have gotten out of control," she said. "It could have been a tragic incident."

Nelson, who takes a public-safety course at Ola High, is planning to go into the Air Force after he graduates. He said he has considered becoming a firefighter later in life.

"I've got my mind set on going into the military, but when I get out, I'd like to do it," he said. "It'd be a pretty interesting job. I want to help save people's lives."

Duffy expressed his gratitude to Nelson, for the teen's neighborly actions.

"I'd do most anything for him, because if it hadn't been for him, I don't know what would have happened," Duffy said.

Upon hearing of Nelson's ambition of being a firefighter, Duffy said he supports the idea.

"He'd be a good one. I'm quite sure he would."