From fire hero to victim: Friends help Minneapolis man who lost home

A Minneapolis man who raced into a burning building to save the life of a woman constrained to a wheelchair, now finds himself a victim of a devastating fire. He was recently burned out of his long-time apartment. With no renter’s insurance, his friends are rallying to help the Good Samaritan in his time of need.

"I was here yesterday. I coughed all day," Thomas White told FOX 9’s Paul Blume as he returned to his three-floor Minneapolis apartment building in the city’s Webber-Camden neighborhood. "It smells like you've been in a bonfire."

White showed Blume and his crew the damage from the flames, smoke, and water of the March 26th fire. 

"Pretty much a total loss because they had to pump water in through the roof," said White.

White and his fellow residents were given one last opportunity to clear out any belongings they might salvage before the significantly-damaged apartment building on 44th Avenue North is gutted.

"It's tough because, I mean, this is home," White told Blume. "Yeah, this was home. And I got a lot of stuff, sentimental stuff."

It was early on the morning of the 26th when White and his partner, Kristi Freeman were in their bed on the third floor. They smelled smoke and the alarms were blasting. White said they ran out to see flames filling the apartment right across the hall.

"We heard the fire alarm saying ‘fire, fire.’ And within 2 minutes, it was. It was ablaze," recalled Freeman.

The couple hustled to safety, but in their dash outside, could not locate Kristi’s treasured 15-year-old cat Mocha.

Said Freeman, "I was screaming, crying on the ground. My cat, my cat… That's all I wanted. I didn't care about anything else in the fire. Just the cat."

White knew he needed to do something, and ignoring orders from firefighters on scene, raced back inside several times, his lungs filling with smoke on each run.

"By that point, the smoke was here (pointing shoulder height), so I'd get really low," White recounted. "And I crawled in there and found her in the closet and brought her out and got her out. They hugged. They took the cat, gave the cat a blanket. Didn't even hug me."

Added Freeman, "After, you know, a few minutes, I then acknowledged him and I said, oh, ‘you're my hero.’"

Turns out, it is not the first time White has played the role of hero during a fire. 

About a decade ago, White was in the right place at the right time when fire broke out in a Brooklyn Center home. He remembered seeing a witness in a panic and learning a woman, who had both legs amputated, was stuck inside. What White did next, earned him a citizen service medal and a feature on a local north metro newscast.

"The lady that was in there was in a hospital bed, she was a double amputee," White told CCX Media at the time. "We just had to get her out of there. I mean the house was burning, so we got her in a wheelchair and wheeled her through the door. Got her to fresh air where she was safe."

Having gone from fire hero to now a fire victim, White’s friends and coworkers are rallying to help the Good Samaritan who has proven he is willing to go above and beyond to assist others.

"My mom always taught me. What goes around, comes around. What you do will come back to you, whether it's good or bad. And so I try to be the best me I can be."

White is so appreciative of this GoFundMe page they launched, to raise a little money to help him and Kristi get into a new apartment and replace some of their belongings lost in the blaze.

"It's awesome. It's when people reach out and help other people. I mean, that's what I was brought up to do. And I think nowadays we don't have that as much as we did when I was younger. Where neighbors helping neighbors and friends help friends, it's just pretty awesome."

The Minneapolis Fire Department reports its investigators have been unable to determine the cause of the recent apartment fire in White’s building. It is now boarded up to keep trespassers out. It is structurally safe to rebuild, but no timetable has been given.