Officers, friends who rescued Church Hill man from burning house honored by BMA

Jeff Bobo • Oct 16, 2019 at 5:45 PM

CHURCH HILL – John Mills is alive today because two Church Hill police officers and a family friend pulled him out of his burning house on Aug. 24.

On Tuesday evening, the Mills family and the Church Hill Board of Mayor and Aldermen expressed appreciation for the bravery of those three men, as well as others who participated in extinguishing the fire and saving the house.

On Aug. 24 shortly after 8:30 p.m., the Church Hill police and fire departments were dispatched to a residential fire at 333 Sunrise Ave.

Officers Ethan Mays and Chad Gillenwater were the first on the scene, and upon their arrival they observed that the home was full of smoke, with flames visible at the rear of the house and through the roof.

Church Hill Police Department Chief Chad Mosley told the Times News on Wednesday that upon their arrival the officers were told that John Mills, 72, was still inside the house.

“They talked to Mr. Mills' wife and found out he had a lot of health issues, and she wasn't able to get him out of the house,” Mosley said. “Officers Mays, Gillenwater, and (family friend) Kreston Steele entered the burning residence and they carried Mr. Mills out into the yard.”

John Mills was in intensive care for several days after the fire and is still recovering. His wife, Linda Mills, was the only other person home that evening and was hospitalized after the fire with burns.

Linda Mills and her daughter Robin attended Tuesday's BMA meeting to present the city’s Lifesaving Award to Mays, Gillenwater and Kreston Steele.

Mays and Gillenwater also received commendations on Tuesday along with Church Hill Fire Department Chief Luke Wood, Mosley, Denny Steele and his son Peyton Steele.

Kreston and Denny Steele are brothers, and Denny is assistant chief of the Surgoinsville Fire Department. When he was younger, Peyton spent a lot of time at the Mills’ home, where Linda Mills ran a daycare business.

“They (the Steeles)  were all there helping before we even got a fire truck on the scene,” Mosley said. “Once we got a fire truck on scene, Denny Steele along with (CHFD Chief) Luke (Wood) were the first ones to enter the house and extinguish the fire. Denny Steele's son Peyton assisted. He was holding the door open and running back and forth to the fire truck getting equipment for the guys and taking it to them.”

Mosley added, “When they got there the house was full of smoke. It turned out to be a kitchen fire, and those are notorious for having a lot of smoke before they start spreading. I brought the first engine on scene that night and I really expected to lose the house because it was coming through the back side of the wall through the roof when we got there. Within 10-12 minutes we had the fire extinguished.”

The commendations, which were were read aloud on Tuesday by Mayor Dennis Deal, stated,  “Upon arrival these firefighters displayed extreme quickness, determination, confidence and courage through their actions. These firefighters rescued the homeowner from the residence and knocked the flames down. These firefighters are to be highly commended and congratulated for their professional actions.”

“I just want to say thank you all so much,” Linda Mills said. “Thank you, Peyton. I love you because you're part mine because I had you for seven years in daycare.”

Robin Mills added, “On behalf of our family I do thank you very much for everything you've done. A lot of you guys have called and checked on us to see how things are going, and we greatly appreciate it. The Steeles are just as much a part of our family, just because you're not blood doesn't mean you're not family and we thank you very much.”