This article originally appeared in The Inquirer on Sept. 6, 1984.
It was during the first rainy days of August when Carlos Torres of Wynnewood decided to postpone his weekend retreat to the shore. Instead, he saved his neighbor’s life.
On the Sunday afternoon of Aug. 5, when he would have been sunning at the shore if not for the gloomy weather, Torres rescued Richard Gleeson from his burning home on Old West Wynnewood Road near Lancaster Avenue.
Last week, he received a commendation for bravery from Lower Merion Police Superintendent Salvatore Frustaci.
“We were watching TV in my office and my girlfriend said, ‘It smells,’” Torres, 33, recalled Tuesday. “Then an old man in a car knocked on my door and said my neighbor’s house is on fire. Then he left.”
Torres, who moved to Wynnewood two years ago, said he kicked and banged on Gleeson's door, but no one answered. He said he was about to break into the home, from which smoke billowed from the second-floor windows, when he realized that Gleeson's door was unlocked.
Torres climbed the stairs of the home four times - the flames and the smoke chased him back during the first three attempts — before he could find Gleeson, who was unconscious and lying on his bed.
When the smoke was too thick for Torres to find the bedroom door the first two times, he ran up the stairs a third time, covering himself with a wet towel. When that did not help, Torres, a former lifeguard in New York, ran home and grabbed his buoyancy vest — which provides oxygen for up to five minutes — from his scuba equipment.
"From the stairs up, you couldn't see two inches in front of you," Torres said. "The smoke was so thick I couldn't find the door. I couldn't see anything. But I know the design of his house and where his bedroom is, but I kept hitting the wall. I thought it was his bedroom door. Then I realized his bedroom was about four steps back from where mine is. I found him by touching.
“When I took him out, I put him across my shoulders. He almost broke my back coming down those stairs.”
Karin Motero, Torres' girlfriend and a resident doctor at Lankenau Hospital, put Gleeson in her car and drove him to Lankenau. He was admitted for smoke inhalation, Torres said, and released a day later.
“He didn’t remember anything,” Torres said of Gleeson, who could not be reached for comment. “Both his nostrils and his mouth were filled with smoke and he was black. I was black, too. It took me three hours to get the stuff off my body. My hair got a little burned.