Charlottesville Fire Department, Sullivan praise firefighters, heroes


In a ceremony held in the Rotunda Wednesday, President Teresa Sullivan and the Charlottesville Fire Department honored five people for their role in dealing with the fire that broke out at 1256 Wertland St. the morning of Jan. 21.

Community members Ralph Martin, who threw rocks at a window to wake the 13 students inside, and Melvin Johnson, who sounded the air horn in his truck and dialed 911, were first commended by Sullivan, who echoed the importance of taking action in situations of distress.

“At U.Va. we talk a lot about the importance of being more than a bystander,” Sullivan said. “We talk about that when you see something happening that you know is wrong, to act.”

Their “bravery and quick decision making” saved lives, Sullivan said.

Sullivan then praised University police officer Benjamin Rexrode, whom she said “disregarded his own safety to run into a burning house to search for students.”

Two University students — third year College student Ian Van der Hoven, and fourth-year College student Yenni Tan — also received recognition for helping their roommates evacuate in what was described as total chaos.

“Imagine going into a zero visibility environment with heat, smoke and trying to find 13 students,” said Richard Jones, Charlottesville Fire Department chief community outreach officer.

By the time the fire department arrived flames had engulfed the front of the house and several cars parked outside. Jones said that because of the bystanders’ reaction, all the residents were evacuated and accounted for.

“On this day, the actions of the fire department were not the most important actions that were taken,” Jones said.

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