MY VERO: A modest hero who saved 4 lives

It was shortly before 3 a.m. on July 3 when Indian River County Sheriff’s Deputy Rob Ryan, responding to a 911 call, pulled up in front of the burning house on Poinciana Circle.

He was the first to arrive.

“We’re out on patrol and already mobile,” Ryan said, “so we usually get there before the fire department.”

Deputies aren’t trained to fight fires, however, and the professionals were only minutes away. But Ryan couldn’t wait.

The house was filled with smoke. The blaze was spreading quickly. And he heard a faint voice crying out from inside the home.

His instincts took over.

“As soon as I got out of the car and saw what was in front of me,” Ryan recalled, “I knew what I had to do.”

Without a moment’s pause, he ran into the house, through the smoke and flames, and found Sherry Weinstein on the floor in a back bedroom. She was only semi-conscious when Ryan picked her up and carried her outside, her cats following them to safety.

By then, firefighters and an emergency medical team were on the scene. Weinstein, 52, who said she moved to the Village Green community from the Boston area in February, was taken to Indian River Medical Center, where she was treated for smoke inhalation and is now fully recovered.

She said she had fallen asleep, unaware that her stove was still on, and that an oven mitt apparently had caught fire.

“I had a fire extinguisher and tried to put it out myself, but I wasn’t able to, so I called 911,” Weinstein said. “I managed to get my two dogs into my car, and I tried to get my three cats out of the house. But one of the cats went back in and I went in after her.

“After that, I don’t remember a lot,” she added. “I got all discombobulated and everything is a blur. That’s when I must’ve succumbed to the smoke.”

That’s when Ryan showed up and did what first responders are supposed to do in potentially deadly situations — something he had done on two other occasions.

He saved a life.

“It’s just the way I’m built, I guess,” Ryan said. “I see someone in trouble and I try to help.”

Having joined the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office in 2006, after serving in the U.S. Marine Corps for four years, Ryan received his first Lifesaving Award in 2008, when he carried an 89-year-old World War II veteran out of a burning house.

He received the award again in 2009, when he pulled two men out of a burning car after a wreck near the intersection of Old Dixie Highway and Oslo Road.

Sheriff Deryl Loar said he’s “very proud of Deputy Ryan and his accomplishments” and is looking forward to presenting him with the award for a third time.

Loar said Ryan’s efforts were a “perfect example” of how “our men and women put their lives on the line every day.”

Ryan, in fact, found himself in another life-threatening situation only days after his latest rescue.

Responding to a domestic-disturbance call – he arrived on a scene where a man believed to already have fired his shotgun once was threatening suicide – Ryan, because of his past S.W.A.T. team experience, led his fellow deputies into the house.

“I have some tactical background,” he said, “so I was the first one through the door.”

Fortunately, no shots were fired. The man was disarmed. The episode ended without any further incident.

And, to Ryan, there was nothing heroic about it. It was just another day on the job, same as the house fire in 2008 and the car fire in 2009 and the house fire two weeks ago.

“I went home and went to bed,” he said, “just like I do after any other shift.”

Not until two days after he had saved Weinstein’s life did he bother to tell his wife, though he said she fully understands and accepts the dangers that accompany his career choice.

“Maybe it’s because I spent four years in the Marine Corps and served in Fallujah (Iraq) in 2004 and 2005; maybe it’s all the training; maybe it’s just the adrenalin rush you get in those situations,” Ryan said. “But I don’t really think about the danger. Not at the time, anyway.

“Don’t get me wrong: I know the risks,” he added. “And as the father of two young kids – I’ve got a 7-year-old boy and a 5-year-old girl – I probably should think more of my own safety. But you can’t.

“You can’t think about that. You can’t hesitate. You don’t have time to be scared.”

But afterward?

“There might be a moment, after the fact, when you think about what could’ve happened,” Ryan conceded. “After getting those guys out of that car fire, I remember thinking to myself, ‘At what point do cars on fire blow up?’

“But when you’re in the moment, when you’re the first one there and it’s a life-and-death situation, all you’re thinking about is getting those people out of danger.”

To be sure, Ryan wasn’t speaking for only himself. He said every other deputy in the county would respond in a similarly selfless manner if placed in the same situations.

So as much as he appreciates the awards and recognition for his actions, Ryan said simply, “I’m just glad I was able to help.”

Weinstein said the deputy, who took the time to visit her in the hospital, was being modest.

“He’s a hero to me,” Weinstein said. “If he hadn’t gotten me out of the house, I wouldn’t have survived. I’ll never forget him or what he did. And I’m not alone.

“He saved my life this time. He saved three other people’s lives in the past. I have no doubt he’ll save more lives in the future.”

Told what Weinstein said, Ryan shrugged and smiled. He understood her sentiment and was noticeably flattered. But, again, he was reluctant to take too much credit for merely doing what he gets paid to do.

“Sure, it’s nice to be recognized and get kudos,” Ryan said. “And there are moments when you’re alone and you sit back and think about what you did and what might’ve happened if you hadn’t been there.

“It’s a good feeling to know you actually helped somebody, especially in those types of situations. But I really don’t do a lot of reflecting. Maybe when I’m retired, I’ll look back on everything.

“For now, though, I just go out and do my job.”

Running into smoke-filled houses. Pulling people out of cars on fire. Being the first to barge through a door when there’s a real possibility peril is on the other side.

Saving lives.

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