NORTHPORT, Maine — Ten-year-old Julia Cerone stepped up to a microphone Thursday to deliver a special message to her classmates during a school meeting at the Edna Drinkwater School.
“It’s never a good thing to go and run for something you want [in a fire,]” she said, “because you can get burned really bad.”
Julia knows exactly what she’s talking about, after a Christmas Eve fire that destroyed her family’s Cheri Lane home and sent her grandmother to a Boston hospital with serious burns and smoke inhalation.
The Northport Volunteer Fire Department came to the school meeting Thursday to honor Julia and her cousin Diana Tyutyunnyk, 13, of Orono for their heroic actions that afternoon. Diana was not at the school.
“What they did was very brave,” Chief Mike Alley told the assembled elementary school children. “They got Diana’s 2-year-old sister out of a home that was burning.”
Alley and several other firefighters presented two plaques during a brief ceremony, one for Julia and one for Diana, and the students and teachers gave her a standing ovation punctuated by spontaneous hugs from her classmates.
“It’s the human lives that are important,” Principal Jody Henderson said.
Julia’s parents, Mark and Ludmila Cerone, stood behind their daughter as she was honored by the firefighters.
After the ceremony, they said that the girls’ grandmother Nina Tyutyunnyk, 71, is recovering from second-degree burns and smoke inhalation injuries faster than her doctor had expected.
“She has a very strong will,” said Ludmila Cerone, her daughter.
The Cerones said the fire apparently was started by a candle burning in the grandmother’s bedroom, where 2-year-old Sophia Tyutyunnyk was sleeping.
The older girls were playing outside when they saw smoke coming from the home, Mark Cerone said. Their grandmother grabbed Sophia and brought her to the door and handed her to the two cousins, then went back in to try to douse the fire with a pan of water.
Earlier reports from the Maine State Police indicated that she had gone back in the home to retrieve money and personal items, but that wasn’t entirely the case, they said.
“Her main concern was saving the home,” Mark Cerone said. “She was literally asking [the girls] to come back in and help put out the fire.”
That is where the girls’ fire safety training kicked in, the couple said.
“What is extra special is that they ignored an adult’s request, which ultimately saved their lives,” Mark Cerone said.
Instead, they ran to neighbor Jason Thurston’s house and asked him for help.
He came to the burning home and found Nina Tyutyunnyk unconscious inside, the Cerones said.
“He had to carry her over his shoulders,” Ludmila Cerone said.
The grandmother was taken by LifeFlight helicopter to Massachusetts General Hospital to be treated for burns on her face, back, arms and hands, they said. She was released Dec. 31 and is recuperating at the family’s rented home in Belfast.
“My dad said if we were still in the Ukraine, she would not have survived,” Ludmila Cerone said.
The family wanted to thank the many people who supported them in the aftermath of the fire, which destroyed the home and its contents.
“We had so much outreach from the community that we actually had to turn away help,” Mark Cerone said.
He said that his Bank of America supervisor, Cindy Joseph, was one of those who helped.
“She drove to Rockland to buy Christmas presents,” Mark Cerone said. “If it wasn’t for her, my daughter would have had nothing under the tree.”
The company also gave him emergency leave and paid for a hotel in Boston, so he could be close to the hospital.
“Bank of America absolutely went above and beyond,” he said.
“We’re so blessed,” his wife added.
Mark Cerone said insurance company State Farm also has been “absolutely fantastic.”
“Insurance companies get bad names,” he said. “But they were absolutely phenomenal.”
He reiterated his daughter’s hard-earned lesson about fire safety.
“Absolutely do not go into the home for anything,” he said. “Get out. Go to a safe place. If you follow those rules, hopefully, you’ll get a good outcome.”