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Man rescues children from White Towers Motel fire

Cheryl Browne

By Cheryl Browne, Barrie Examiner

Dennis Soules is being called a hero after saving two small children from a fire Sunday night, in Barrie. (MARK WANZEL/QMI AGENCY)

Dennis Soules is being called a hero after saving two small children from a fire Sunday night, in Barrie. (MARK WANZEL/QMI AGENCY)

He sports a longish red beard and a lip piercing.

He's an average guy of average height and weight.

In other words, if you met Dennis Soules walking down the street, you wouldn't know he was a hero.

Yet the Barrie man who ran into the burning White Towers Motel three times Sunday night to save two small children and other guests from the fire that blazed through the motel's eastern building, doesn't think he did anything out of the ordinary.

"I just did what I hope somebody else would do for my children," said Soules, standing outside the motel, Monday, in the damp, frigid air.

"I wasn't thinking about what I was doing. I was just trying to help."

The large gaping black hole where the second floor window for room 26 used to be, shows a blackened shell where the fire started.

According to Barrie Fire and Emergency Services, they received the call about the fire at the Donald Street motel around 8:50 p.m.

By that time, Soules was on his way back into the burning building for a second time.

Soules, who is two weeks away from graduating as an addictions councilor from Everest College in Barrie, said he was visiting the hotel in an attempt to find a friend whom he believed was in dire straights.

As a father of three children under the age of 10, Soules said when he heard a child scream in the unit above him he jumped.

When he got upstairs to the room, he saw another guest coming out of the end of the hall to determine why the alarm was ringing.

The open door of the room revealed two small boys, aged two and four, sitting near the door where the father had placed them, as he attempted to extinguish a mattress fire across the room with cups of water.

Fire officials say the father had been looking for the baby's bottle under the bed using his cigarette lighter to illuminate the underside of the box-spring when it caught fire.

Soules said he scooped up the boys and brought them down the hallway away from the fire, and grabbed a fire extinguisher to help the father put out the burning mattress.

He said the fire extinguisher didn't have a pin in it, so he ran to the motel office, told the owner to call 911 and grabbed another fire-extinguisher to fight the fire.

When he got back upstairs, it too, didn't work.

"By this time, it was really smoking, so I wrapped the two kids up in my coat and ran to my car with them," he said, showing how he wrapped his two bear-sized arms around two little bodies.

"I put them in the car, backed it up to the other side of the parking lot and got my uncle to sit in the car with them."

Soules ran back into the building and hurried upstairs to help the frantic father and other guests out of the building.

"People were still gathering up their belongings, and I said, 'Leave your effing s--t! Don't make me take you out of here'."

By now, it was getting darker and smokier and Soules admitted he was coughing with each breath.

The Canadian Red Cross arrived at the fire and brought the two young boys home to their mother.

Soules drove to a nearby department store and bought the father clothes, as he'd been evacuated while still in his underwear.

Derek Golden, who had been in room 19 - and was later moved to room 10 - said he invited people into his new room as the fire progressed.

"There was about 10 people in here, just trying to stay warm," Golden said. "But Dennis, he went well beyond what any other person would do. He saved those kids."

Jeremy Hardy, who had been in the room below the burning unit, said he watched Soules carry out the children.

"That was the first thing he did, was get those kids out," Hardy said. "By the time I got out and looked up, it was all orange."

While the Barrie fire officials confirmed there are fire alarms working throughout the building, the fire extinguishers were not operational.

Business owners can be fined up to $100,000 for failing to maintain fire safety equipment, such as fire extinguishers.

Surjit Sooch and his wife, Abtar, have been the owners of the motel for the past 23 years. Sooch said they did their best to help evacuate the building as the fire swept through the upstairs units.

Sooch said he has logs showing his monthly fire alarm tests and that his alarm system was working Sunday.

He admits his wife handed Soules an empty fire extinguisher to use when he arrived at the office.

"My wife was panicking, she was scared and gave him an empty canister," Sooch said.

Of the 26 units, 15 were occupied, he said. He moved all customers from the burned-out unit into the remaining empty rooms.

"We gave them all shelter. That's my duty," he said, adding, "It happened. What are you going to do? I never thought there could be that much damage."

As the day progressed, exhausted guests received coupons for local stores for clothing and groceries from the Canadian Red Cross.

Barrie Fire Public Fire and Life Safety Officer Samantha Hoffmann had attended the fire and spoke highly of Soules' endeavours.

"He was a Good Samaritan," Hoffmann said, Monday afternoon. "He is a nice man who was in the right place at the right time."

Nicki Hogg and Kara Maher, of Barrie, stopped by the motel in the early afternoon with a bag of clothes and toys for the children.

"You've got to start the new year off right," said Hogg.

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