Catonsville house fire

A house fire broke out early Friday morning in the 500 block of Bathhurst Road in Catonsville. (Photo courtesy of Christine Peter / September 6, 2013)

It was early in the morning of Sept. 6 and Bruce Wood and his two-person recycling collecting crew had finished their route in Oella and were making their way through the residential neighborhoods of western Catonsville.

Normally, Wood and his crew pick up the glass, cans, paper and other items residents leave for recycling in Catonsville first, then finish in Oella.

But because they were running slightly late that Friday, Wood decided to reverse the route.

Little did he know, that minor adjustment would help save the lives of two Catonsville residents and their dog that morning.

Wood and his crew members were collecting the recycling on Bathurst Road when Wood said they started to see smoke at the end of the street.

"It was chilly that morning, but not chilly enough that you would have a fire going," Wood said in an interview Sept. 18. "Then I started noticing like this black smoke and I thought, 'Man, something isn't right.' "

Shortly after 6 a.m., Wood and his crew arrived to find the roof of the house at 516 Bathurst Road engulfed in flames.

Inside were 61-year-old Irvin Miller, his wife, Patricia, also 61, and their golden retriever, Maizee.

At that point, Wood said, instinct took over and the crew sprang into action.

"I stopped the truck, jumped out and told one of the boys, Jason, to call 9-1-1. I said, 'Al, you just start banging on the door as hard as you can.'

"I ran around back, and when I got around back, the top of the porch roof was on fire," the 54-year-old Middle River resident said. "I went onto the porch and just started slamming on the windows and trying to get through the door.

"I was just getting ready to go break the front window -- that's when we saw the people coming out," Wood said.

The fire had begun in the attic and, because the smoke from the fire rose with the heat, the fully functioning smoke detectors below the attic in the Millers' house never went off.

"My wife and I and my dog were sleeping," Irvin Miller said.

"There was a tremendous amount of pounding on the front door and the doorbell was ringing," he said. "I looked at these guys [when I opened the door] and they said, 'Your house is on fire! Your house is on fire!' "

Miller said the experience was surreal.

"I can't express the feeling that I had," Miller said of that morning. "It's like being a homeless person.

"I was sitting on the sidewalk, watching my house burn down, watching my wife cry her eyes out."

Kathy Sulewski lives next door to the Millers and is best friends with Patricia Miller.

She said the couple and their dog would not have made it out of the house alive, had it not been for Wood and his crew.