Leap of faith helps save family from fire

Rontavious Davis and daughter Zuri with brother-in-law Monteco Johnson, who helped get Zuri to safety. | Barbara Ball

WINNSBORO – It was a little after 7 a.m., Monday, Jan. 26, when fire broke out in a Sand Creek Hills home in Winnsboro, forcing a harrowing escape that included dropping a toddler from the roof into the arms of a Fairfield County Sheriff’s deputy.

Emergency crews were dispatched to the home where it was reported two people were entrapped – homeowner Rontavious Davis, 28, and his one-year-old daughter, Zuri.

Davis’ wife, Shanice, had just left for work a short time before the fire broke out, and Davis and his daughter were still sleeping in a second floor bedroom when he was awakened by the smell of smoke. Opening the bedroom door, Davis said the smoke was so thick he couldn’t see through it.

“I realized the downstairs was on fire, but I couldn’t see anything,” Davis said. “I called the EMS and my wife’s cell to let her know the house was burning. I didn’t know then, but she also called her brother who was across town just leaving for work.”

As Sheriff’s deputies arrived, they observed fire pushing out the home’s kitchen window. They forced open the front door and made several unsuccessful attempts to reach the two occupants entrapped on the second floor.

In the kitchen downstairs, the fire was still contained, but blue sparks and flames were reported shooting from the hood over the stove. In a second rescue attempt, the officers tried to make their way up the stairs to Davis and his daughter, but heat and smoke forced them to retreat from the house.

Outside, Davis’s brother-in-law, Monteco Johnson had sped to the scene and was running toward the house.

“It was cold, raining, and we were two stories above the ground.

-RONTAVIOUS DAVIS

Trying to think how he and his daughter could escape, Davis picked the toddler up and opened a bedroom window. It was cold and raining outside and they were two stories above the ground.

“That’s when I saw Monteco running across the yard to the house,” Davis said. He quickly took his daughter to the master bath that overlooked the garage and opened the window that was high above the garage roof. But the roof was too far down and too steep to climb out on with a one-year-old.

That’s when Davis’s brother-in-law, Monteco Johnson, turned into a superhero and accomplished a near impossible feat. He ran up on to the deck at the back of the house, jumped up on the deck railing and somehow hoisted himself into the air and about four feet around the corner of the house to the garage roof which was about two feet higher than the rail, a dangerous leap by any standards. In his leap of faith, Johnson had no handholds, but spotted an exhaust pipe sticking out of the roof. He grabbed it and somehow pulled himself up onto the steeply pitched roof.

Monteco Johnson points to the roof he “flew” to as he helped his brother-in-law and niece to safety.

Below, Sheriff’s Deputy Amber Shultz was shouting for Johnson drop the little girl to her.

“I was scared and cold and just had shorts and a t-shirt on. It was very emotional. I handed my baby out the window to Monteco, and watched as he dropped her from the edge of the roof down to the officer,” Davis said, recalling how upset he was as he watched his daughter being dropped from the roof. 

EMS, the Winnsboro Department of Public Safety (WDPS) and firefighters were quickly on the scene and brought a ladder to the roof’s edge for Davis and Johnson to climb down.

“It was scary,” Davis said. “They took me to the back of the firetruck to help me calm down,” he said. “They wrapped towels around us and put me and my daughter in the ambulance and took us to the hospital to be checked out.”

Inside the kitchen, firefighters had almost extinguished the fire when a fireman pulled the kitchen’s exhaust hood down. A ball of fire and blue sparks shot out from the hood, according to Lt. Oren Gadson, investigator for WDPS. When the home was fully extinguished, the completed investigation determined that the fire started in the exhaust hood.

The Davises escaped the burning house physically unscathed, but they lost many belongings and are still shaken over the ordeal that Davis and his daughter survived.

“The inside of the downstairs will have to be rebuilt,” Davis said. The family is currently living with family members in Winnsboro. Davis, who works at an industry in Blythewood’s Northpoint Industrial Park, said co-workers and friends have been generous with financial and other donations to help the family recover from their losses.

Davis said he’s thankful for the help from the first responders, for the support he and his wife and daughter are receiving from family and friends, and he said he’s especially thankful to his superhero brother-in-law, who he credits with saving his and his daughter’s lives.