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On way home from movie, teen alerts residents to house fire

Alex Panopoulos, 16 of Towson, helped alert a sleeping family that their house was on fire on the way home from a midnight screening of "The Dark Knight Rises"
Alex Panopoulos, 16 of Towson, helped alert a sleeping family that their house was on fire on the way home from a midnight screening of "The Dark Knight Rises" (Photo courtesy of Donna Jean Rumbley)

A 16-year-old who works as a lifeguard at Campus Cabana Swim Club in Towson made his first rescue of the year last week, though it was nothing his training could have prepared him for.

Alex Panopoulos, a Towson resident and rising junior at Calvert Hall College High School, was on his way home from the movies early Friday, July 20, and observed a house on fire along Cromwell Valley Road. He and his companions alerted the residents of the blaze before the fire consumed the house.

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Panopoulos said he and two friends, Chris Consoli and Sean Donnelly, were being driven home by Sean's mom, Mary Donnelly, from a midnight screening of "The Dark Knight Rises" at AMC White Marsh 16. As they were traveling, he looked out the window and saw the roof of a house on fire in the 900 block of Cromwell Valley Road.

He said he yelled out for his friend's mom to stop, then got out of the car to call the fire department and report the blaze.

Baltimore County police and emergency response spokeswoman Cpl. Cathy Batton confirmed that the house was "fully engulfed" when fire department personnel arrived at about 3:53 a.m.

Panopoulos said firefighters responded quickly, but in the meantime, he and his friends' mother took it upon themselves to alert the residents of the house that their roof was ablaze.

"My friends' mom and I were knocking on the door, screaming 'fire! fire!' " Alex said. "They were sound asleep. They had no idea."

He said it took a minute to wake them up, and when they came out, the residents couldn't believe what they saw. He said they repeatedly thanked the passersby for alerting them.

"They were in shock, so they didn't say much," he said. "We understood that."

Panopoulos and his friends didn't stay long after the fire department showed up. But reflecting on the incident on Monday, he said the incident could have played out differently if the group had stayed at the theater through the movie's closing credits.

"I wanted to see if anything happened at the end, but they wanted to come home," he said. "It was a late night."

Panopoulos' mother, Donna Jean Rumbley, saw "The Dark Knight Rises" midnight opening at a different theater — she was at the Rotunda Cinemas as part of her job with a local radio station. But when she got home and her son hadn't returned from his own viewing, she began to get worried.

"I was waiting for him and when he finally got home, he said, 'Mom, I just saved some lives,' " Rumbley said.

Batton said the fire appeared to be accidental and could have resulted from a lightning strike from storms that came through the area that evening. Fire crews were on the scene for several hours, she said.

Residents of the house were not able to be reached on Monday.

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