Resident rescued from Elizabethton house fire calls barbers his heroes

John Thompson • Updated Aug 18, 2017 at 11:19 AM

ELIZABETHTON — Barber shops are not normally the scene of heroic actions and life-saving drama, but as Richard Slagle sat in the empty Whitson Barber Shop on Thursday afternoon he praised barbers Jon Whitson and Arnold Lane.

"I think they are the greatest," Slagle, 73, said. "They saved my life."

Whitson denied any heroism. "I just did what anyone should do," Whitson said of his sprint from the barber shop to Slagle's house to warn him his house was on fire. "Fortunately, he was on the first floor and there was not any smoke down there. He did not know the house was on fire."

Elizabethton Fire Chief Barry Carrier said the fire was reported around 4:05 p.m. The house is situated on a bank overlooking busy West Elk Avenue. The best way to attack the fire was to use the department's ladder truck and park it on West Elk, even though rush hour was just starting.

The worst part of the fire was in an attic and some firefighters directed a stream of water through a broken upper window overlooking the street. Other firefighters dragged a hose through the yard to spray water through the same window.

Slagle was taken to the barber shop to wait for the fire to be extinguished. A worker from the American Red Cross worked with him to determine his short-term needs. Some friends also came to the barber shop to offer their help.

City Councilman Sam Shipley was one of those friends. Shipley said he grew up with Slagle and they remain close.

The Whitsons have also been close to Slagle. Liz Whitson, who is an aunt to Jon and Arnold, said she had taken him around town on Thursday for his appointments and needs. She said she had just gotten him home five minutes before the fire.

"I screwed in a fuse and I heard a pop," Slagle said.

"The cause of the fire was electrical,” Liz Whitson said.

While Slagle was not aware a fire was burning on the top level of his home, an eastbound motorist saw the smoke, stepped on his brakes and made a sharp right turn into the barber shop parking lot.

"He came rushing inside, saying the house was on fire," Jon Whitson said. He and Lane ran as fast as they could to the house to give Slagle the warning.

Although Slagle was not injured, the extent of the damage to his home will not be known until the fire is completely out. Slagle said the house is 120 years old and he has lived there since 1960. He said at one time his parents had a business, Sycamore Shoals Antiques, at the house.

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