Highway patrolman called hero for trying to save children from burning home

BRUKE COUNTY, N.C. — A North Carolina highway patrolman is being called a hero Friday for risking his life to save two children from a burning home in Burke County.

Trooper Greg Gentieu was treated for smoke inhalation after flames swept through the home, killing an 11-year-old boy and 6-year-old girl.

Eyewitness News was there as firefighters battled those flames and spoke earlier Friday with Gentieu.

Gentieu said when he pulled up to the home on Old Laurel Road, he got out of his car and could hear the mother screaming for her children.

He said he got down on his hands and knees and crawled into the burning home to find them.

"You got to help me. My babies are in there, my babies are in there," screamed the mother.

Gentieu said he will never forget those words after arriving at the home.

He tried at first to go through a rear window to reach the 11-year-old boy and 6-year-old sister.

Then he and the father went around front in hopes of finding another way.

"This is the flashlight the dad actually took out of my hand when we went in through the front door and I had this one," said Gentieu.

With only the flashlights the two men began crawling through the home despite heavy smoke rolling out the doors and windows.

"We could see a doorway off to the left. By the time we got four or five crawls in there the doorway was totally engulfed in smoke. I could feel the heat and the orange flames already coming through," said Gentieu.

Gentieu was treated with oxygen for smoke inhalation after he and the father were forced back by the thick black smoke and heat.

The two were unable to reach the children and as he waited for help to arrive Gentieu said those were some of the toughest moments of his life.

"When you stand there, and know there is nothing you can do about it as bad as you want to, it is a feeling I'm not use to having," said Gentieu.

Gentieu showed Eyewitness News two stuffed animals his own children gave him to leave at the growing memorial outside the home. Family members of the children want to thank him tonight for his courage.

"I would thank him for risking his life for two children he didn't even know," said uncle Charles Suderno.

The fire marshals said an autopsy was done earlier Friday on the two children at Baptist Hospital.

He said it may be next week or even longer before he's able to release his findings on what started the fire here.