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Off-duty fire chief saves woman from burning building

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. - An off-duty firefighter in Lycoming County was in the right place at the right time over the weekend.

The Williamsport fire chief saved his neighbor's life when he pulled her from her burning home.

Chief Todd Heckman wasn't wearing the proper gear, and he wasn't paged or listening to the scanners, but Sunday night when he saw smoke coming from a house about a block away from where he lives, he jumped in to help.

Williamsport Fire Chief Todd Heckman had the day off. He was just getting home when he saw the smoke about a block away from where he lives. An apartment on the second floor of the apartment house on Huffman Street in Williamsport caught fire.

"What was different this time was watching everyone run towards the house," Heckman told WNEP.

Chief Heckman drove down the street and found the place on fire.

Akim Smart was outside. His partner Nicole Spells was trapped on the second floor.

"I could hear her screaming, screaming for me. She knows I'm not going to abandon her, that's the thing. That sort of broke my heart. I can't do anything at that point. I couldn't go back up the front," Smart said.

Smart tells us he was making french fries when the fire started. It spread quickly.

Without his gear, Chief Heckman couldn't reach the woman either.

"About 1,000, 1,100 degrees. Just popping and cracking. Things were just blowing up," said the chief.

With fire crews still on the way, the men needed to find another way in. Neighbors helped carry a ladder to the house.

"About that time, we heard a banging in the middle window," Heckman said.

Chief Heckman climbed to the second floor. He broke a window and called for Spells.

"Through the smoke, I could see her green shirt. I reached in and grabbed her and pulled her through the window and next thing you know, boom, we have her on the porch roof."

Spells did not want to speak on camera but says she's OK.

"It was overwhelming for me because she is the light of my life," Smart said.

"She is a very, very lucky woman, very lucky," Heckman added.

The family did not have renter's insurance. They are being helped by the Red Cross and have a place to stay for the next few days.

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