Queen Anne mom, daughter rescue blind neighbors from house fire

Sheer chance and the brave efforts of a mom-and-daughter team helped save two blind women when the kitchen of their Queen Anne home caught fire around 9:30 in the morning Nov. 28.

It was sheer chance because 16-year-old Catherine Scott would normally have been in class at Ballard High School. Ballard High was having a snow day that Tuesday, though, and Scott was still asleep in her upstairs bedroom, she said.

She woke up to the sounds of screams and loud voices coming from her neighbors' house in the 400 block of W. Smith St. And, she said, it was easy to figure out what was going on.

"I can see out of my bedroom window inside their kitchen window," she said of the house Maxine Eckman and her daughter, Robin Ross, have lived in for nearly 40 years.

Scott saw a small fire in the women's kitchen. "But since they were both blind, I decided to check it out." So she ran downstairs, told her mother Chris McBride about the fire and asked her to call 911, Scott said.

Then the teenager, with her mother in the lead, headed over to the burning house through the back yard of their home on Fourth Avenue West. "By the time I got to the house, my mom had run into the burning house," Scott said.

The door was open and Ross was already standing outside at the bottom of the steps to the back porch, said McBride. Ross's mother, however, was still inside. "I saw her coming through the smoke with a cup of water in her hand," McBride said. "She wouldn't budge, but the heat was intense."

By that time, smoke had started to fill the kitchen, and McBride was forced to run outside. "I was overcome by smoke," she said. After getting some air, McBride said she ran back inside the burning house, grabbed Eckman and led her outside. "I don't think she would have made it (otherwise)."

Seconds later, the kitchen and the back porch were fully engulfed in flames, and shards of glass were flying as windows blew out because of the heat, McBride said.

Scott marveled that no one was hit by the flying glass during the rescue, which ended with her walking the two women across West Smith to a neighbor's home. "I've never seen so much fear," the teen said of her blind neighbors.

"They were pretty shook up," agreed McBride, adding that Eckman ended up with burns to her hand, neck and head. Eckman was treated at the hospital, and McBride herself was treated at the scene for smoke inhalation, she said. McBride says she doesn't remember much about the rescue. "It was all too surreal."

The two blind women left empty-handed, leaving even their canes behind, something Ross asked about, McBride's daughter said. "I told her you can replace things, but not a life," Scott recalled.

The fire, which was deemed accidental, caused an estimated $150,000 in damage, said fire department spokeswoman Helen Fitzpatrick. What McBride and her daughter did definitely saved lives, Fitzpatrick added. "They did a good job."

The burned house is insured, Scott said, but what's left of the women's possessions has been heavily damaged by smoke and water. "The concern is, they have nothing, absolutely nothing," McBride added.

The Red Cross put the women up in a hotel after the fire, Scott said, but she has set out to help as well. "Well, basically, right after this happened, I set up an e-mail account (at helprobinandmaxine@cheer-ful.com)," she said of a fundraising effort that collected $300 as of last Friday. Scott added that she is also going to set up a Web site at www.helprobinandmaxine.com to gather donations.

The teenager said she is going to solicit local businesses to help the women in some way, "especially Ken's Market because they know Robin and Maxine well."

Scott has also put up fliers in the neighborhood asking for help and donations, which can be sent to Maxine Eckman at 2212 Queen Anne Ave. N., #327, Seattle, WA 98109.

Scott said she took some ribbing at school for being a hero, but she pooh-poohs the idea. "I think anyone would have done it."

McBride admitted she has also been labeled a hero in the neighborhood, but like her daughter, McBride also denies doing anything special. "Any of the people on this block would have done the same thing," she said. "We just happened to be here."[[In-content Ad]]