Shelburne man honored for saving friend from fire

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) A disabled man is alive because a Shelburne man helped pull him from a burning building.

The fire was at an apartment complex on South Meadow Road in Burlington this past June.

"We were sitting watching television and I noticed kind of a haze," George Ellwood said.

Ellwood was inside the apartment when it caught fire. Within minutes, he says that haze turned into flames, sending everyone inside into a panic.

Firefighters say the fire started in a stairwell and spread quickly. Some tenants had no other choice but to jump from a second-floor window. One man, who uses a wheelchair, was stuck until another man he's known for years came to save him.

"He wasn't getting out of there unless someone got him out," said Ellwood, a support specialist with Champlain Community Services.

Ellwood says he spends every Saturday caring for Paul Betz, a 46-year-old disabled man who lives in the apartment complex.

When he tried to lead Betz outside, his motorized wheelchair stopped working. Seconds later, they were surrounded by fire.

"I got the motors disconnected and we got him out of there. Took a little pushing and a little pulling," said Ellwood. "That was it."

Once in the clear, Ellwood loaded Betz into his van and drove to the hospital. Both men suffered second-degree burns to their arms and backs.

Nearly two months later, a scar remains on Ellwood's forearm, but it's not the only thing that will remind him of that day.

Thursday, he received a Medal of Valor from the state of Vermont, thanking him for risking his life to save a friend.

The retired cop says it's no big deal.

"It's kind of embarrassing,” said Ellwood, trying to fight back tears.

But to Betz and his family, it means the world.