Fire survivor teaches children fire-safety tools that saved his family

PHOTO: Ralph Heard has been teaching fire safety for nearly 40 years as a volunteer with the Atlanta Fire Department.PlayABC News
WATCH Fire hero's life mission

Ralph Heard Jr. knows the importance of teaching fire safety in schools.

He was just 9 years old when, in February 1978 in Atlanta, Georgia, his home's furnace exploded, blowing out windows. With burns over 75 percent of his body, he ran through his home, helping to get his mother and younger siblings outside to safety.

10-Year-Old Hero Rescues Children from Mobile Home Fire in Florida

Heard credited his family's survival that night with the techniques he learned through financial services company The Hartford's Junior Fire Marshal Program, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year.

In 1978, a representative of the program had come to Peyton Forrest Elementary School where Heard was a student. He said he remembered receiving the trademark red hat.

He described the experience of surviving the fire to ABC News today.

"I was just totally scared. I didn't know what to do," he said. "But at that particular time, it came to mind: 'I need to fall to the floor, crawl to the door for safety, call out for help,' so I started to do that."

He said that when he got outside, he rolled on the grass to stop the burning and put out the rest of the flames on his body. Heard had to undergo almost 26 surgeries and stayed in the hospital for nearly six months. He said he was forced to stay in the house for nearly a year.

The Hartford program honored him as a boy, making Heard a Junior Fire Marshal Gold Medal winner.

The program has created more than 110 million junior fire marshals, Heard said. For the last 40 years, he's been teaching fire safety as a volunteer with the Atlanta Fire Department.

PHOTO: Ralph Heard returned to his former elementary school to teach students about fire safety. The Hartford Junior Fire Marshall Program, which trained Heard when he was 9, is celebrating its 70th anniversary.ABC News
Ralph Heard returned to his former elementary school to teach students about fire safety. The Hartford Junior Fire Marshall Program, which trained Heard when he was 9, is celebrating its 70th anniversary.

The Hartford, a property and casualty insurance company, said Atlanta, Georgia, ranks 60 among the 100 cities with the highest home fire risk in the U.S..

"In recognition of the 70th anniversary of the company's Junior Fire Marshal education program, The Hartford is donating $10,000 to the Atlanta, Georgia school district and $10,000 to the local fire department to support ongoing fire safety education and behavior initiatives," the company said.

Today, Heard returned to Peyton Forrest Elementary to share his story and teach children about fire safety.

"The Hartford Junior Fire Marshall Program saved my life," he told ABC News today. He said he wouldn't have survived the fire "if it wasn't for the program that trained us and taught us as kids that you've got to stop, drop and roll."

"The program really, really works," Heard said, "'cause I'm alive today."

ABC News' Steve Osunsami contributed to this story.

Comments