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Neighbors recall rescuing 2 girls from Cape house fire on Sunday

By Staff | Feb 16, 2009

Two young girls are alive today.
As smoke billowed Sunday afternoon from their Cape Coral home with the youth trapped inside, their father Paul Lawhorn, neighbor Aileen Meaney and her stepson Tim Gibson were among those who would ensure they would get to say those words.
But not one of them suspected their actions would define the lives of the two girls, Giana and Kerrigan, ages 2 and 18 months — Lawhorn was mowing the lawn while Meaney cooked in her kitchen across the street, and Gibson fished off of Meaney’s dock at about 2 p.m. when officials said a fire broke out at 5019 S.W. Eighth Court.
Meaney and Gibson sprang into action as Lawhorn pleaded for help to get his daughters out of the home. Meaney broke out two of the home’s windows with boulders and cut her wrist on the broken glass.
“When somebody needs help you go and help,” she said. “I didn’t even think about it.”
Gibson and Lawhorn entered through the broken windows and braved the burning home to save Giana and Kerrigan.
“There was a lot of panic,” Gibson said Monday afternoon. “It was a pretty chaotic scene. Everybody knew there were children inside. We were pressed for time, we had to get in there and get them out.”
Lawhorn saved one of the girls, but Gibson found himself entering the smoke-filled house to rescue the other youth. At first, he was unsuccessful. In fear of passing out from smoke inhalation, he had to go to the window for air.
“I took a couple more deep breaths of air and went back in,” he said. “I was breathing in quite a bit of smoke and I couldn’t find her right away. I kept thinking to myself, ‘Am I gonna get out of here?'”
But with a bit more searching, Gibson found the girl’s reaching hand and helped her out of the home.
Gibson trained briefly and volunteered with the Bayshore Fire Rescue, but he works in air conditioning to support his wife and two sons, ages 1 and 4.
“The training that really stuck with me most was the same kind of training that I used,” he said. “A lot of people are telling me, ‘You’re made to be a firefighter.'”
Gibson said he would love to be a firefighter, but the waiting list for the job makes it difficult.
Gibson, Meaney, Lawhorn and both girls were taken to Cape Coral Hospital for treatment Sunday, though Gibson did not get a chance to talk with Lawhorn after the chaotic circumstances of their first encounter with one another.
“I’ve never talked to them up until that day,” Gibson said.
He chalks it up to fate that Lawhorn and he met, though Gibson would like to get a chance to meet again under different circumstances.
“Maybe my kids can play with their kids,” he said.
Officials said the cause of the fire was accidental and started near the kitchen stove. Damages are estimated at about $150,000.
Meaney said a family dog was killed in the fire.
Danielle Verdieck, Giana and Kerrigan’s mother, was working as a bartender and waitress at the Victory Lane Cafe when the fire broke out, said co-worker Blakely Booth.
The restaurant has pulled together to hold a fund-raiser March 1 to raise money for Verdieck and her family.
Booth said she was shocked to hear about the fire.
“We are all doing our part,” she said.
The fund-raiser will be held at the cafe, located at 4120 Hancock Bridge Parkway in North Fort Myers. Though the planning stages are still in the works, a silent auction and gift certificates from local businesses are expected to be included.