Jane Cate is alive. Katelynn Spicer saved her life, literally dragging this unconscious woman out of her home full of flames and black, rancid smoke, dragging her by her ankles and into the front yard.
“I was just doing my job, what I took an oath to do, to save lives and help people suffering,” Spicer, 23, said. “I do not think I am a hero. I’m just happy I got there and found her and did what I’m trained to do.”
For eight months, from May until December 2020, Spicer was an emergency room nurse at the University of Tennessee Medical Center. Staying calm while dealing with a variety of emergencies is part of her DNA and training.
Knoxville Fire Department Asst. Chief Lonnie Glenn out of Station 18 on Weisgarber Road put it this way: “If Katelynn had not gotten to her when she did, the lady would be dead. End of discussion. It took us about four minutes or so to get to the house (4309 Lonas Road) and had Katelynn not been there either the smoke or the flames would have killed her. She’s lucky to be alive.”
On Sunday evening, Feb. 28, Cate had gone to bed early, around 7 p.m. her sister, Angie Holman, tells us. Her power was off. At 7:43 p.m. the alarm sounded at Station 18. Not long before that Spicer had left her apartment in the Greenbrier Ridge Apartments across the street from Cate’s home. She was making a food run. When she turned right onto Lonas Road she saw flames at the little white house. She pulled into the driveway. No one else was there.
Let’s let this nursing graduate of Berea College tell the story:
“The left side of her house was burning and you could really see the flames. I ran to the front screen door not knowing what I would find. God said to me to do something. I jerked the screen door so hard the top hinge came off. When I opened it a huge cloud of black smoke hit me and I started coughing and my eyes were blinded and my glasses black. I did the stop, drop and roll drill, cleared my eyes and my glasses and crawled through the front door.
“That’s when I saw the whiteness of her ankles and her feet facing the door. She was on her back. She almost made it out but obviously collapsed and fell backwards. She was three or four feet inside the house. I got to her and she was groaning, breathing and her pulse was OK. I started hearing things breaking and exploding, the popping and crackling of fire and the flames were spreading.
“I grabbed her ankles and started dragging her out the door into the grass to get her away from the smoke. I rolled her onto her right side so she could breathe easier. The black stuff coming out of her mouth was horrible. About that time three other people from my apartments showed up (Edina Hobib, Hana Peterson and Patrick Mink, also a nurse at UT). They helped me move her closer to the road. That’s about when I heard the fire trucks coming.”
Jane Cate is at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center Burn Unit, recovering from smoke inhalation that burned the inside of her mouth, throat, esophagus and lungs. She also has second-degree burns on her face. She can’t talk. She can’t swallow and is on a feeding tube, but off the ventilator and improving, says her sister, Angie Holman. Cate, 66, is an accountant at Toyota of Knoxville.
Back to Nurse Hero Spicer.
“… Her pulse was still strong and I knew she was feeling pain and that actually was a good sign. I didn’t know who else was in the house so I ran back in yelling and screaming. I did find a cat that was hissing at me. I grabbed that cat (Mickey) and threw it out into the yard pretty far. By then it was really hot in there and the fire was moving towards the front door and I got out.”
Cate’s dog, JoJo, and two other cats did not survive, nor did her home and her belongings.
Glenn and the KFD crews arrived and took over. “They told us to move her into the road and we did that pretty quickly. I was still checking her vitals and her pulse was strong. About then a firefighter came with an oxygen mask. I snatched it out of his hand and got the mask on her.”
Spicer remained in the street with Cate until the ambulance crew arrived and took over. Her car was still in the driveway inside the fire lines, so she didn’t get home until 9:30.
“When I did get to my apartment, I took a shower. My clothes and my hair reeked of smoke and burn smells. Then I got dressed for bed and sat down and took some very deep breaths and started crying and crying. I didn’t know what her outcome would be or if she could recover. Smoke inhalation burns are really serious.”
A large flower arrangement dominates her dining room table. “Toyota of Knoxville sent me those flowers this week and they’re so beautiful and also gave me a $250 spa gift certificate. I cried again. (Jane) Cate worked there and I went out to visit with her co-workers and we all hugged and cried some more. And every time I talk with her family we cry some more.”
This hero is about to leave us. She already has – partly. After giving up her job at UT, she accepted a job in the ER at Baptist Health Corbin, a 273-bed hospital in Kentucky.
“I knew in middle school I wanted to be a nurse and my dream job was to work at UT’s ER but after I got here and worked those eight months it was not what I thought it would be,” she explained. “I was stressed when I got to work and stressed when I left. Plus, the pay in Corbin is so much better ($17,000 more annually).”
Marriage? Hopefully, she says, to her man Jonathan Ludwig.
She is also considering going to nurse practitioner school at some point.
And, of course, she wants to meet Jane Cate. “That will be a very emotional moment for me, like one of those happy endings you see in the movies. It will be a time for joyful tears,” Spicer said. “And lots of hugs too.”
Tom King has served at newspapers in Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and California and was the editor of two newspapers. He writes this Monday column – Our Town Heroes – for KnoxTNToday.com. Suggest future stories at email@example.com or call him at 865-659-3562.