December 15, 2006

Alumna's heroics depicted on Discovery Channel

by Sun Min

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- The heroic acts of one young woman during a house fire in northern Illinois that saved several lives are now the subject of a Discovery Channel documentary.

Terra S. Engler of Lombard (374 N. LaLonde Ave.), a 2006 graduate of the College of Liberal Arts at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, will be featured on a show called "True Heroes," which will air on the popular channel at a time yet undetermined.

Authorities credit Engler for saving her mother Gloria Hickey, stepfather Don Hickey and brother Troy Engler during a fire earlier this year sparked by faulty electrical wiring. The fire destroyed their home but Engler's parents decided to rebuild and the family moved back in just last month.

Camera crews recently traveled to Engler's home to interview the family for the television segment. The experience brought back memories of the horrible fire.

Early on New Year's Day morning, Engler was sleeping on the couch in her family's home in Lombard when she felt something "bright and hot," she said. Once she opened her eyes, she saw a fire in the hallway across from her younger brother's room.

"I stood in disbelief for about 30 seconds and then I screamed and awoke my mother and stepfather," Engler said. The three ran outside and then Don Hickey went back in to grab Troy, who usually slept wearing headphones because he has special needs.

Soon after, Don cried for help.

"He was yelling that he was dying so I pulled my sweater over my nose and mouth and shut my eyes," said Engler. "Using my hands and ears, I went into the house and found my stepfather in the kitchen. I began to pull him towards the door when he collapsed, later we found out he had a stroke from the fire and lost most of his sight. I dragged my stepfather out of the house then I broke the window to my brother's room and pulled him out."

When news of the incident reached authorities, several organizations honored Engler's efforts. She received a Good Neighbor Award from the Township of Lombard and a Heroism Award from the Illinois Fire Inspectors Association.

"I don't consider myself a hero, and to hear people address me as such astonishes me," Engler said. "To me there was nothing else to do but save my family. It was bad enough watching my home burn down but to have my family in there while it was burning, I could not stand and watch that happen."

Engler was a standout at SIUC as well. A political science major, she served as a student ambassador for the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute and participated in community activities as a member of the Sigma Sigma Sigma sorority. The 22-year-old is now applying to graduate schools to pursue a master's degree in teaching.

Serving others is among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint for the development of the University by the time it celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2019.