Jackson County

Gautier woman could have died in a fire in five more minutes without help, doctor said

Jeff Broadus was enjoying his day off on his balcony when a neighbor yelled that she heard a fire alarm.

Broadus ran to the building next to his and realized it was the apartment of a woman who uses an electric scooter to get around.

What happened next possibly saved Nila Riley's life.

Broadus smelled smoke as he approached the apartment and thought he would have to break the door down to get inside, but the door wasn't locked.

"Thank God for that," Broadus said. "I opened the door and smoke was full on me."

He saw a skillet on fire on the stove and grabbed a dish towel to put the fire out.

"I don't know what she was cooking, but I think it was done," he said.

Broadus said he ran into Riley's bedroom and found her "incoherent and weak." Those are among symptoms which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says are signs of carbon monoxide poisoning.

"She didn't want to leave with me," Broadus said. "She fought me and I couldn't get her out. I opened windows and started fanning smoke away from her face."

He described the Riley, 66, as a friendly resident and neighbor. Riley has lived in the complex for six years since moving to the Coast from Connecticut.

"She's my buddy. She rides a little scooter and when I'm out in my golf cart, I ask her if she wants to race."

His brother-in-law ran in to help while firefighters, stationed a couple of miles away on Martin Bluff Road, drove over.

Riley was taken to a hospital for treatment of smoke inhalation. She was treated and released.

"We just found out from her daughter that the doctor said she had a high level of carbon monoxide poisoning," said Danny Moore-Stanton, property manager.

"The doctor said if she had been in the apartment five minutes longer, she would have passed away. We appreciate Jeff for being brave."

A paramedic told Broadus he should also go to a hospital to be checked for smoke inhalation.

"I'm hard-headed like my dad," Broadus said. "I didn't go to a hospital. I just toughed it out."

Firefighters used a fan to ventilate the apartment and the woman was able to return to her residence.

"I'm thrilled that we have supervisors who act promptly in individual situations," Moore-Stanton said. "In this case, Jeff went into the apartment in a timely manner and may have saved her life."

Broadus said he doesn't want to be considered a hero.

"I did it because it was the right thing to do," he said.

Staff photographer John Fitzhugh contributed to this report.
Robin Fitzgerald, 228-896-2307, @robincrimenews