Walter Lewis and his family had been living in rented homes for some time, so when they finally found a house they could buy and own, Walter was happy it was a sign of good things to come. The Fort Wayne, Indiana house was a real fixer upper and neighbors kept telling him to just sell it and move on, it was just one of those neighborhood houses that nobody liked, but for Walter and his family, it was home, a home that he looked forward to working on and getting it just right for his wife, their kids and five month old American Bulldog Rock.
On January 15, 2016 Lewis went down to the kitchen at 2:30 am to get a glass of water. He has rheumatoid arthritis and the medication that he takes sometimes leaves his mouth dry, and this was one of those times. He went downstairs and found his dog, Rock acting strangely.
When he went back down to get the dog to quieten down, Rock bounded up the stairs, something he never did.
“I supposed that was his way of telling me we’ve got to back up,” he said.
That’s when he noticed a light coming from the next room—and smoke.
He screamed for his wife to get up and get the kids, then he cut out the plastic screen that covered the window to the porch roof and got everybody out on the roof. It was January and extremely cold. He called for help, but none came.
Braving the cold and his fear of heights, he leapt off the roof to get the ladder so his family could get down to safety.
“I didn’t care about myself, because I live to protect my family,” Walter said.
Walter had a red, 16-step ladder right outside the house, because he had been working on it. Now it was just within reach.
He placed the ladder against the house and climbed back up to get his family down.
He had one daughter wrapped up in his arms and carried his 9-month old baby with his teeth. The gripping next few moments sealed their fates.
He put them on the ground, leaving the baby in the arms if his little sister and then he went back up to get his wife and his dog—but Rocky had disappeared in the thick smoke never to be seen alive again.
The rest of the family waited atop the roof for firefighters, and the family was saved.
Walter Lewis did what every man would have done, forget all fears to save his beloved family and Rock—Rock lived to protect his human family and died doing it. Lewis might have missed the fire entirely had the American Bulldog not have been there. He is the hero in this story and just goes to show how deep the bond between a dog and his owner can be. According to Lewis, Rock was like family, he was a bona fide family member. Rock is sorely missed, but will forever be remembered.
“Rock, he lived to protect us,” Walter remembered.
Incidentally, Lewis’ house was so badly damaged by the fire, it was condemned by city authorities. The Lewis family has had to move and start their lives afresh. They have lost a lot in that fire. They lost possessions they had worked hard they are thankful though that they are alive today to tell the story.
Walter felt the red ladder was a symbol that it was going to all be okay—“The ladder is still there. I can still climb to the top. That’s how I see it. There’s no looking back. I have to continue to move forward.”