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He saved her from a burning house. 34 years later, she got to say thank you

In July 1989, Deanna Smith woke up to flames in her best friend's house. Ed Harnum saved her life that night, but they had not seen each other in more than three decades.

'I owe my life to this man,' says Deanna Smith

A split screen shows a man in a grey sweater on the left and a woman in a grey jacket and black hair on the right.
Thirty-four years ago, Ed Harnum pulled Deannea Smith from a house ovetaken by fire. (Submitted by Steve Harnum/Sarah Antle/CBC)

Deannea Smith hadn't seen Ed Harnum in 34 years. It turns out she never forgot his eyes. 

When Smith saw Harnum earlier this month, she locked on his eyes — and knew instantly they were the eyes she saw through the respirator and mask he wore the night he saved her life. 

In July 1989, Harnum carried Smith, then only 12, out of her best friend's house in the central Newfoundland town of Bishop's Falls. 

"I was a bit nervous at first, but I gave him a hug — like I did right when he picked me up in the fire," she said. 

"I'd never let that man go, if I could. I owe my life to this man." 

At a ceremony to honour Harnum's 50 years in the volunteer fire service, the pair were reunited for the first time since the most traumatic night of Smith's life. 

Smith moved from Bishop's Falls a couple of years later, when she was 15. She now lives in St. John's. 

But when she got a phone call from Harnum's son, Steve, asking if she wanted to come to the ceremony, she jumped at the chance.

They came up with a perfect plan to surprise his father with a visit from the girl he saved from that burning house. 

Steve Harnum said it was all a plan "to make a grown man cry." 

A sleepover gone awry

On July 7, 1989, Smith was having a sleepover at her best friend Martha's house. They were so close that she called Martha's parents "Mom" and "Dad." 

In the the early hours of the morning, the Morgan family home caught fire. 

Smith woke to the sound of crackling wood, and when she looked around, she recalled, the floor was glowing red. 

A woman with black hair in a white dress stands next to a man with grey hair in a navy blue suit.
Smith finally had the chance to thank Harnum from saving her life in the house fire. She cried when she saw him for the first time since the night of that 1989 fire. (Submitted by Deannea Smith)

"'We got to get out,'" she remembers yelling to Martha. "'The house is on fire!'"

Smith can remember may of the details of that night. But all along, she did not know who exactly pulled her safety. 

Before the rescue, the girls screamed for Martha's parents to wake up. 

Martha's father tried to get everyone out, and broke a window on the second floor and threw his wife and daughter out of the house.

His wool socks were burned to his feet and he hurt his tailbone after landing on their car. 

But Smith was scared and couldn't get out the window. Terrified, she waited for the fire truck as the flames surrounded her.

"And by that time, I could hear the fire trucks," she recalled. 

Spotted in the window

When the Bishop's Falls fire department arrived at the scene, Harnum spotted her in the window. He entered the burning home, found her and brought the young girl to safety.

It was only as they were coming down the ladder that she heard the chirp of the smoke detector. 

Harnum and his brother Craig went back into the flames to find the family's son, who had unexpectedly returned home that night. 

Tommy died on the way to the hospital. 

A woman in a white dress sits with five firefighters.
Smith and Harnum were reunited 34 years after he rescued her. They met at a ceremony to honour his 50 years in Bishop's Falls, N.L., fire service. (Submitted by Steve Harnum)

Harnum was awarded with the Arthur Johnson Memorial Citation for his work that night, an award for outstanding firefighter of the year. 

Now, 34 years later, Smith finally got to thank the man who saved her. 

"I didn't know it was Ed," she said. She thought his brother had carried her out. 

"But I'm so lucky that he did. I thank my life for him every day. And I'm glad that he rescued me," she said through tears.  

Ed Harnum remembers the day like it was yesterday, too. It's not a sight a person can forget, he said.

"Just to see her little face on the bottom of that ladder… that she was OK … it's worth a million dollars," he said. 

34 years later

Firefighting runs in the Harnum family. Ed Harnum's father was the fire chief in Bishop's Falls, both of his brothers are firefighters, and his two sons followed suit. 

Steve Harnum said he knew the person his father saved 34 years ago had to be there. 

"It was just something that I always thought about doing," he said. "What better way to be able to celebrate his career than to find a young girl that he saved back in 1989. And luckily for us, we found her." 

Smith told the Harnum family things they didn't know. 

WATCHA woman thanks the firefighter who saved her 34 years ago:

Firefighting reunion: Deannea Smith and Ed Harnum on the house fire that changed their lives

4 months ago
Duration 4:19
In 1989, Ed Harnum carried Deannea Smith out of a fire at her best friend’s house. They recently reunited, and shared their story with On The Go’s Anthony Germain.

"I always knew that he rescued a little girl, but unfortunately a young man died in that fire, so Dad didn't really talk about it too much," Steve explained. "But I did know the story that he rescued somebody. When I spoke with Deannea, she didn't know it was my dad. She thought it was another firefighter," he said. 

When Steve Harnum announced that Smith was in attendance, his father's reaction was everything he had hoped. 

"We go to fires and rescues and what not, [but] we never really understand… or we don't know what happens to the people after we leave the scenes," he said. 

"And to see his reaction was just nothing short of excitement. Emotional, obviously. I think it's the first time I seen my dad actually fill up." He then added, with a laugh, "But he didn't want anybody to see him."

Four men in navy blue firefighting uniforms stand in front of a fire truck.
Harry, Ed, Garry and Craig Harnum are all part of a family of firefighters. Ed's two sons have also joined the profession. (Submitted by Steve Harnum)

After the ceremony, Ed Harnum finally talked to his son about that night. He said Harnum remembers everything — "right down to a cigarette roller … where it was to on the table." 

"It was the first time I actually heard him talk about that." 

Steve said there wasn't a dry eye in the room.

His father agreed it was emotional. 

"It was like it was a movie," Ed Harnum said. "I filled up."

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sarah Antle

Journalist

Sarah Antle is a journalist working with CBC in the St. John's bureau.

With files from On the Go

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