Man shares story of survival after house fire: 'I’m very lucky’

Man shares story of survival after house fire: 'I’m very lucky, obviously’

NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) - Bill Sturman spent two and a half weeks in a coma after surviving a house fire in December. It happened at a house along Kauri Street, which he shares with his sister, Trisha Sturman.

On the morning of Dec. 10, Bill was asleep in his bedroom above the garage, oblivious to the fire quickly spreading beneath him. Trisha ran upstairs.

“She’s screaming, ‘You’ve got to wake up! Wake up and get out of the house! The house is on fire!’” Bill said.

Kauri Street Fire damage
Kauri Street Fire damage (WECT)

Knowing he needed to get out fast but having limited mobility and with none of his canes in sight, Bill knew walking down the stairs wasn’t an option. Using his stair lift was also out of the question.

There was no time.

“You’re not gonna walk into flames," Bill said. "I can’t run through them because I can’t run, and I wouldn’t do that anyways, so I just jumped into, I call it the abyss.”

He wound up unconscious on the floor at the base of the stairs with broken ribs, and his breathing slowed.

Thanks to a team effort by both the Wilmington Fire Department and New Hanover County Fire Rescue, crews worked together to find Bill inside the home and get him out.

“Wilmington Fire Department Engine 8 arrived on scene and quickly entered the structure to meet Engine 14 inside who located Bill," said Wilmington Firefighter Josh Baltz. "We began moving him and when firefighter Prince’s low air alarm went off, he exited the structure to meet his crew. Engine 8 worked together to remove Bill from the structure to safety and began medical treatment. “

Bill has a long recovery ahead. His trachea and lungs were badly damaged from breathing in the hot smoke and while he was in a coma, doctors in Chapel Hill spent weeks working to clear out his lungs.

According to Bill, one doctor told him if he had taken just three more breaths inside the burning house he wouldn’t have made it.

“It was so fast and so close," Bill said. "When things are measured in breaths and when things are measured in seconds — I don’t know how to say it to you.”

This brush with death was not Bill’s first. Bill says after several car accidents, he suffered from debilitating neck and back injuries. He was told he’d never walk again but time and time again he overcame the odds.

“People talk about the first accident being a miracle," Bill said. "How can you walk after being completely paralyzed from the neck down? This is, to me, the miracle and I never thought anything would top that.”

Bill and Trisha Sturnam thank the firefighters who saved them. (Source: WECT)
Bill and Trisha Sturnam thank the firefighters who saved them. (Source: WECT) (WECT)

Firefighters say the fire was caused by a space heater, but Bill doesn’t believe that. He said he thinks it started because of faulty electrical wiring upstairs where his bedroom was being remodeled.

Bill and Trisha plan to demolish the home and rebuild a custom house to accommodate Bill’s needs. If you’d like to help as they put their life back together, click here.

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