A Freetown man is receiving most of the credit for giving his neighbor a chance at surviving the injuries he sustained when his home blew up.

David Painter was burned when the furnace in his one-story, wood-framed home at 4807 W. Columbus Pike exploded Monday, police report.

The 54-year-old was treated by personnel with Jackson County Emergency Medical Services before being flown from a field across from his home to the burn unit at Eskenazi Hospital in Indianapolis. He was listed in critical condition there Tuesday.

Story continues below gallery

Jackson County Officer Stan Darlage gave Painter’s 39-year-old neighbor, Joe Francis, the credit for making that flight even possible.

“When I got here, he was pretty bad,” Darlage said of Painter. “Without Joe, I’m not sure he would have made it.”

Darlage said Painter was alert and talking to rescue workers when he arrived after the blast, which was reported at 7:30 p.m. Monday. Ambulance personnel stabilized him before loading him on a helicopter for the trip north.

Painter told Darlage he was trying to light his furnace when the blast occurred. But Pershing Township Fire Chief Ben Rudolph said an investigation conducted by himself and Josh Kreigh of the State Fire Marshal’s Office showed the explosion was accidental and caused by the way the furnace was being operated.

Rudolph said evidence shows Painter was not in the basement and trying to light the furnace when it exploded but was upstairs in or near the kitchen.

Francis, who lives just west of Painter at 4827 W. Columbus Pike, said he was in his front yard watching his 5-year-old twins with a longtime friend, Steve Ayers, whom he hadn’t seen in 20 years.

“We were standing out here talking and the next thing we know, the house exploded,” Francis said. “It blew the whole foundation out. There was a big old flash.”

Francis said he left his kids in the yard with Ayers. He said his initial plan was to go to the back of Painter’s house and shut off the LP tank that feeds the home.

“But I heard him screaming and couldn’t leave him like that,” Francis said. “So I kicked the front door open and went into the house. He was standing in the kitchen. I grabbed him and walked him out.”

Francis, who is an emergency medical technician and firefighter with the Pershing Township Volunteer Fire Department, said he took Painter, who was on fire when he first saw him, to the front yard and moved him away from the house before shutting off the LP tank.

He then called dispatch at the sheriff’s department for a helicopter and waited with Painter until firefighters, ambulance workers and police arrived.

Francis said he has known Painter for about a year, liked his neighbor and was concerned about his condition.

“It’s in God’s hands,” he said.

Ayers, 46, grew up in the Freetown area but had lived in El Paso, Texas. He recently moved back to the area and just happened to be driving by Francis’ house shortly before the blast.

“I drove by, and then for some reason, I just turned around and came back and started talking to him (Francis); and a few minutes later, the house exploded,” Ayers said.

Another neighbor, Carl Ball, said he had known Painter for about three years and knew him well. He said Painter, who is a self-employed contractor, had just had his LP tank filled up.

Ball agreed to take care of Painter’s dog, Bubba, for the time being.

“That’s all he’s got,” Ball said.

Rudolph said the blast left the home extremely unstable and unsafe, forcing firefighters to first attack the fire from outside. Firefighters eventually were able to enter the house to fight the fire. A thermal imaging camera was used to make sure the fire was out and there were not any hot spots, Rudolph said.

Painter purchased the home, which sits on less than an acre, in March 2014.

Firefighters from Brownstown and Owen-Salt Creek volunteer fire departments were called to the scene to assist. Darlage was joined at the scene by Brownstown Officer Joe Kelly, county officers Dustin Steward and Adam Nicholson and county Reserve Officer Michael Maxie.

Author photo
Aubrey Woods is editor of The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at awoods@tribtown.com or 812-523-7051.