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‘There’s no question that he is a hero': Former Maryland linebacker hailed for fire rescue

The Washington Post logoThe Washington Post 1/11/2017 Dan Steinberg
© Photo via Facebook. Used with permission

There are two versions of what former Maryland linebacker Cole Farrand did early Monday morning. In his version, he just saw an emergency in his neighborhood, ran home, grabbed an extension ladder and helped a stranger down from a roof.

“I mean, everyone’s giving me a lot of praise,” Farrand said, in a phone interview he granted to set the record straight. “I feel like it’s not needed. It’s not like I ran into a burning house and rescued a whole bunch of orphans or something like that. … I just helped a guy off the roof. I wasn’t trying to be hero or anything like that. I was just trying to do my civic duty, you know?”

For the other version, let’s go to Jill Lapham Rotta. It was her New Jersey vacation home that caught fire early Monday morning, while the house’s two tenants were still inside. One of the tenants wound up stranded on the roof, without shoes, not sure how to escape.

“Listen, [Farrand] took a ladder to a burning house,” Rotta told me on Tuesday. “His mom said he keeps saying ‘I’m not a hero.’ There’s no question that he is a hero. … I mean, honestly, our tenant would either have jumped and hurt himself or been killed. That’s it. There’s no question.”

(Sorry, Cole.)

Farrand — who played at Maryland from 2011 to 2014, leading the Terps in tackles his senior season — was asleep at his parents’ Green Pond home early Monday morning when his father came into his room talking about an emergency.

“All I hear was ‘house’ and ‘fire,’ so I think our house is on fire,” Farrand said. He jumped out of bed, threw on shoes and saw his mother, who frantically explained that it wasn’t their house on fire, but his late grandfather’s house, a few doors down.

So he and his father went outside while his mom called 911. The flames looked like they were shooting 20 or 30 feet above his grandfather’s house, but as they got closer they realized it was actually the house behind that one, on the next street over, that was consumed in flames. Cole rounded the corner to make sure no one was inside the house, where he found a panicked wife, whose husband remained on a ledge outside the second-floor window as the fire was closing in.

“And I said ‘Okay, hold on for a second sir, just sit right there, I’m going to get my ladder,’ ” Farrand recalled. “So I sprint home, grab my father’s extension ladder, and then I run back to the house. And by the time I got back to the house, there’s black smoke pouring out of the window that he climbed out of, and he’s kind of lying down on the ledge.”

Farrand threw the ladder up to the roof. The tenant climbed down as fast as he could. Maybe a minute later, the flames had spread to that window.

“And then the whole house just went up,” Farrand said. “It was like a house of straw, man. From the time we woke up ’til the time the whole house was consumed in flames, it was maybe 10 minutes. Probably less than that.”

Whether this was a run-of-the-mill neighborhood encounter is apparently a matter of opinion. Farrand played down his part and said news outlets are making too much of his role. His mother felt differently.

“Cole thinks anyone would do that, and I so disagree,” Bev Farrand wrote. “The back of the house was engulfed in roaring fire, things going bang, smoke and flames were climbing 40 to 50 feet high into the black sky, electrical wires were sizzling and exploding in a shower of bright blue sparks and the heat was growing overwhelming. … No one was there to help. It was frightening, and I was praying for the fire siren to sound and there was only silence. When I reflect on what happened I realize Cole ignored that. He was laser-focused on protecting and helping anyone in that house. And because of his athleticism he was able to do it at lightning speed.

“By the time I called 911 and got dressed [and I thought I was going fast] and got out the door to run to [the] house, he had already been there, saw the guy on the roof, run home, gotten the extension ladder out from behind our garage. And as I stepped off my front porch he ran past me with the ladder yelling there was a man on the roof.  I ran after him and he was around the corner before I got halfway down the street.”

The house was completely destroyed. The tenants were mostly fine; the wife just needed some stitches on her foot. The windows in Farrand’s grandfather’s house were cracked and otherwise damaged, while a third house suffered more severe damage. Rotta said she was just thankful that her tenants were okay; “just amazing,” she said of Farrand’s assistance. “I don’t know what else to say.”

Farrand was watching the Alabama-Clemson game Monday night when someone told him his story had made the New York Post. The Maryland football team tweeted about his exploits, he’s been getting text messages congratulating him for a job well done, and the couple’s daughter reached out to say thanks, but the whole thing makes him feel sort of awkward. He’s worried that when people find out the actual story, they’ll realize that he didn’t do much.

“I was just trying to help out,” he said.

And if you’re curious, the former Maryland star spent the summer of 2015 with the New York Giants, coached linebackers and special teams at his high school last fall, is still hoping to get another shot at the NFL, and is also preparing for a potential career in marketing and sales.

“I don’t know what the future holds for me,” he said. “I hope it doesn’t hold too many more burning buildings. But if it does, then I’ll definitely be sure that I have my ladder on hand, so I don’t have to run back to my house next time.”

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