NORTON, Ohio — A 69-year-old man was found dead after firefighters responded to a house fire in Norton early Friday morning.
According to the Summit County Medical Examiner's Office, James Tribble died from smoke inhalation.
An elderly couple was rescued from the first floor of the home by Norton police officers and a firefighter.
An off-duty Norton police officer drove by the fire in the 3800 block of Easton Road and reported it just before 1:30 a.m. A News 5 photographer captured flames shooting from the roof and smoke pouring out of the home.
Three on-duty officers were first on the scene and kicked in a door. A short time later, firefighter Brandon Earnsberger entered the burning home and the first responders worked as a group to save Ardell Rice and his wife, Barbara.
"I can't really describe it. Honestly, it was just instinctual. I went in just like the PD. They went in there without any protective gear on. They did a fantastic job," Earnsberger said.
Earnsberger told News 5 that the couple was likely sleeping when the fire started and they seemed disoriented during the rescue.
"I had to force myself upon the male to drag him out of the structure because he did not want to exit. I don't think he really knew what was going on."
Norton city officials did not identity the officers involved in the rescue. City Administrator Robert Fowler said officials were working on plan to release body camera video when the time was appropriate.
After the rescue, firefighters were told that Tribble was on the second floor, but the fire was too heavy and the heat was too intense to get to him.
The fire was knocked down at 3:46 a.m. Tribble was found upstairs. He was pronounced dead at the scene around 5:02 a.m.
"Any fire is always sad. It's tragic. When you involve a fatality, it makes it worse," Earnsberger said.
Ardell Rice was taken to Cleveland Clinic Akron General. A hospital spokesperson said Rice was in stable condition as of Friday afternoon.
Firefighters said Barbara Rice did not have to be hospitalized and was staying with either family members or friends.
Authorities told News 5 that there aren't any fire hydrants in the area and the fire department had to combat the blaze using water tankers and mutual aid from other nearby departments.
"We have to fill the water up as they run out, but we never actually ran out of water or had any issues with fire suppression," Earnsberger explained.
Linda and Jim Triola, who live next door to the Rice family, said Tribble was a quiet, nice man. They believe he was related to the couple and helped out with yard work.
Linda Triola said her heart huts for everyone involved in the tragedy.
"I feel so bad. I was just praying last night that they were okay," she said.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation by the Ohio State Fire Marshal.
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