Johnson City Press: Washington County teen honored for heroic actions that saved neighbors' lives
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Washington County teen honored for heroic actions that saved neighbors' lives

Becky Campbell • Jun 29, 2018 at 11:48 PM

When T.J. Cornett heard his father yell, “fire!” early one morning in April, neither one thought twice about running across the street to make sure the neighbors were safe.

“We didn’t discuss it,” Bob Cornett said about running to check on their neighbors. “I said, ‘fire’ and we were out the door.” He went one direction to check for anyone at the mobile home on fire as well as the neighbors on the other side, and his son went to the Gamble home.

T.J., 16, got low to the ground as he crawled up his neighbor’s porch steps to pound on their door. All the while, flames from the burning mobile home next door were rolling over him and had already set fire to the porch he was crawling on.

Inside that mobile home were Tanya Gamble, who is on oxygen at night, her husband and 9-year-old asthmatic son. Had it not been for T.J.’s quick action, Gamble is certain her family would have died that morning or been seriously injured.

“He’s lucky he didn’t get burned,” Gamble said. “We were able to get out just in time before the door melted shut.”

Jonesborough and Embreeville fire departments responded to the Carmel Village mobile home park on Huffine Road. By the time they arrived, the fire had destroyed the mobile home where it started and caused significant damage to Gamble’s home. She said the landlord is still waiting for the insurance.

Instead of letting T.J.’s actions go unnoticed, Gamble appealed to Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s office for recognition for the teenager. On Friday, Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge, who only found out about T.J.’s heroic actions a few days ago, presented the teen with a proclamation from Haslam declaring a special day for the young man. The quiet spoken T.J. wasn’t much for being considered a hero, but he was appreciative of the recognition.

“It’s an honor,” T.J. said. “I wasn’t expecting any of this. I was told I might be getting an award, but I didn’t expect the mayor to come down and give it to me personally. I feel really cool about that.” He also said he wouldn’t hesitate to take the same action again if needed.

Gamble said she wanted T.J. to get the recognition now, but also hopes it can help him in the future on college applications or career pursuits.

Eldridge said T.J.’s action is a prime example of neighbors helping neighbors in Washington County.

“We so often question kids, the directions and the decisions they choose ... and we’ve got an example here that’s really amazing,” Eldridge said. “He actually saved someone’ s life and he did it for his neighbor. He was afraid of what might happen, he risked his life to let them know there was a fire and let them get out. That’s uncommon.”

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