Quick-thinking Glendale third grader recognized for bravery during fire
PHOENIX — Glendale firefighters on Wednesday honored a third grader whose quick thinking helped keep her family safe during a house fire.
Nine-year-old Rhae Parks woke up during a night in February and looked down to the first floor of her house where she saw flames.
“[She] ran right to her brother’s room, snatched him out of bed, and brought him to us,” Philip Parks, her father, said.
“[Then] she went and made sure our second-youngest was accounted for, then we all rendezvoused and went out of the house together.”
Glendale firefighters were impressed with the third grader’s composure and her selflessness in making sure her siblings were safe – especially firefighter Matthew Bender.
To the students of Copper Creek Elementary School, where Rhae attends, he’s better known as “Fireman Matt.”
Bender has been coming to Copper Creek Elementary for about 15 years, teaching students fire safety tips and helping them develop plans to get out safely in a house fire.
He didn’t know it at the time, but he was one of the firefighters who responded to the fire at Rhae’s house.
The students clearly have a connection with “Fireman Matt.” When he enters the room, where kids gathered to recognize their classmate’s bravery, he’s greeted with cheers.
Clearly, his teaching reached Rhae.
“It’s called EDITH. Exit Drills In The Home,” Bender said. “[Students] get together with their family, draw a floorplan of their house and draw an exit plan from their bedroom all the way out the front door to their meeting place.”
Something as simple as that can make a big difference.
“We’ve heard about Fireman Matt, he’s a celebrity around here,” Philip Parks said. “Knowing what he does do… it’s phenomenal. It really does make an impact.”
Rhae’s teachers ended up telling Bender about how she put his teachings to use to keep her siblings safe. When she saw “Fireman Matt” for the first time after the fire, Rhae gave him a hug.
“It makes me feel like what I’m doing is helping,” Bender said. “They’re listening, they’re taking it home to their families… and making a plan.”
Bender awarded Rhae with a certificate designating her a “Little Hero,” a child-sized Glendale Fire t-shirt and a fire department challenge coin.
He called her “quick thinking, brave and selfless.”
Phillip sees the connection his daughter has formed with “Fireman Matt,” and he recognizes its importance.
“Obviously there was a lot going on,” he said. “But seeing her with her brother at the top of the stairs when we were all trying to get out… was fantastic.”