Kirby Wilson, the running backs coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers, is being treated today for injuries after neighbors roused him from his burning townhouse early this morning in Seven Fields.
Cranberry Township police and firefighters from Adams Township, Cranberry Township, Callery, Harmony, Zelienople and South Butler were dispatched to the blaze at 2:42 a.m. in the Estates of Seven Fields, a townhouse community. Neighbors said smoke was pouring out of the house at 141 Jameson Way, and a maintenance man for the complex said a stove in the kitchen may have caught fire.
Wilson, 50, who was the only person in the townhouse, was badly burned. Dave VanAtta, who lives next door at 139 Jameson Way, said the smell of smoke from the fire woke him and his mother, who lives with him.
VanAtta, who said he formerly was a volunteer firefighter, said he called 911 after looking outside and seeing smoke. He ran outside and pounded on the door of Wilson's home.
Another neighbor, Jim McCaffrey, said he had just gotten home from his job as a mail handler at the U.S. Postal Service facility on the North Side.
"I had just sat down and I heard all this pounding," said McCaffrey, who lives across the street from Wilson's home. He said he also heard VanAtta yelling for help and ran outside to join him until Wilson answered the door.
The men said they talked with Wilson at the door, and Wilson repeatedly thanked them for rousing him. Van Atta said Wilson was burned on his arms, legs and the back of his head and was wheezing from apparent smoke inhalation.
"He said 'Thank you' about a million times," and he also told the neighbors he was "fine," Van Atta said. The men said they tried to keep him conscious, speaking and on his feet, but they said they were afraid to touch him because of the extent of his burns.
As firefighters began arriving and attacking the flames, VanAtta said, they asked him to rouse other neighbors and get them out of their homes.
A statement from the Cranberry Fire Company said Adams Area firefighters quickly knocked out the fire. Cranberry firefighters cleared the scene at about 4:45 AM, and were back in service by 6 a.m. Adams Area firefighters stayed on scene for about an hour after Cranberry's departure for clean-up operations.
Cranberry Public Safety Director Jeff Schueler said Wilson was transported to UPMC Passavant in Cranberry before a medical helicopter flew him to UPMC Mercy and its burn unit in Pittsburgh. His condition is not known. A hospital spokeswoman said updates on Wilson's conditon would be handled by the Steelers.
Kirby has lived for at least two years in the townhouse community in Seven Fields, which is adjacent to Cranberry.
"We always talk to him about the Steelers and ask him if we're going to win this time around," said McCaffrey. He and other residents of the community described Wilson as a friendly, good neighbor.
The fire's offical cause is not known. Schueler said the state police fire marshal is investigating.
Alex Goetz, a part-time maintenance man for the Estates complex, said he believes the fire began in the kitchen and that a stove burner was left on.
The three-story townhouse sustained heavy damaged and its windows are blown out, but it is still standing this morning. Blood stains are visible on the step and door jamb where Wilson gripped it after opening the door.
Steelers President Art Rooney II said team officials are praying for Wilson and his family. The team is scheduled to meet the Denver Broncos Sunday in a wild-card playoff game in Denver.
"We are saddened to hear about this unfortunate situation but we know that he has the best medical care in the country treating him," Rooney said in a statement.
"The entire organization is praying for Kirby to have a full recovery and we will be by his side through this difficult time."
A father of five, Wilson joined the Steelers in 2007 after spending 19 years as a college and professional coach, according to his official team biography. He previously coached running backs for the Arizona Cardinals (2004-06) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2002-03), where he also worked with Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin.
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