Watching or reading the news may remind us of how scary the world can be. And if a stranger decides to break down the front door, we’re therefore perhaps likely to assume that the worst is going to happen. When William Mackenzie entered a 94-year-old Californian woman’s home uninvited, though, he didn’t mean her any harm. In fact, he was actually trying to save her life.
Before Mackenzie encountered the senior, however, he had been driving to work along Valle Vista Avenue in Vallejo, California. And although the journey was one that he had made many times before, he was apparently confronted with something out of the ordinary on that particular morning in December 2017. Specifically, the 25-year-old saw what looked like a fire taking hold in a garage.
So, instead of driving on, Mackenzie decided to stop his car and find out what was happening in the area. He then joined the people already standing nearby, who were watching as the smoke and flames began to engulf the garage. No one was doing anything about the blaze itself, though – perhaps because the fire department had already been called.
Mackenzie would later describe the scene in a December 2017 interview with NBC Bay Area. He said, “I pulled up, and there were a couple of people standing in the middle of the street, kind of watching. First thing I asked was, ‘Is there anyone in there?’ A neighbor said, ‘Yeah, she lives there by herself, she’s older and she’s just not coming to the front door.’”
So, Mackenzie took it upon himself to approach the front door. Then, he knocked and looked through the ground floor window to see if the old lady was there. According to Mackenzie, though, she appeared to have been distracted by trying to put out the fire single-handedly.
And Mackenzie would explain to NBC Bay Area, “It got to the point where I was like, you know, this fire’s going to get out of hand, like quick. And it’s either I’m not going to get in here, or I’m going to get in here now.” Consequently, he began kicking and shoving the front door of the property in an attempt to break it open.
Meanwhile, the woman, a retired teacher, was upstairs, totally overwhelmed by the scale of the fire. She’d heard the commotion downstairs; she had also understood that Mackenzie had called out to her. But it probably wasn’t until the rescuer reached the senior that she realised the seriousness of the situation.
Indeed, when Mackenzie found the woman, her hair had already been singed by the flames. The fire had gotten completely out of hand, in fact, and so there was no way the pair could fight it themselves. “It was so big when I was talking to her,” Mackenzie told KTVU in December 2017. “I could hear crack and pop and things collapsing.”
So, Mackenzie explained to the old lady that, given the circumstances, they needed to get out of the house quickly. After all, the house was already full of heat and smoke by that point. Gently, then, he guided the 94-year-old down the stairs and out of her home.
Mackenzie later noted that, even though the woman seemed to be overwhelmed, she still didn’t appear to appreciate how dangerous the situation was. He told KTVU, “It was a full-force fire, and by the time we got out it was up to the power lines.”
Once the elderly woman was safe, though, Mackenzie waited for the fire department to show up. In the meantime, he directed traffic away from the area. And it was only once the authorities arrived that the brave young man set off on his way to work again.
After firefighters had got to the scene, however, they made short work of the blaze. They managed to extinguish it within ten minutes of arriving, in fact, despite the live power line causing an additional hazard by throwing off sparks. But while the garage was later deemed to be ruined, officials believe that the house itself may yet be salvageable.
As of December 2017, though, the house is red-tagged and being kept vacant before it is properly inspected, while the elderly resident is staying with family members. Mackenzie has also since revealed that he actually knows the family of the woman he rescued – although he didn’t realize this at the time.
Indeed, it was only once Mackenzie was outside and everyone was safe that he established who the woman was, as local residents informed him of her identity. He later told KTVU that it was “kind of crazy” to find out that he knew the elderly lady.
Displaying a gallant streak, Mackenzie even said sorry to the woman for destroying her door. He recalled during the KTVU interview, “As soon as I apologized for the front door, she smiled from ear to ear.” But the young man dismissed suggestions that he had done anything out of the ordinary. “If it was my grandmother in this house, I would love it if someone would do the same for my grandmother, just like I did,” he added.
Nevertheless, firefighters on the scene were quick to praise Mackenzie’s heroism, something the modest 25-year-old disputed. “Hero is a big word, a heavy word,” he insisted. “And I don’t feel I did anything heroic. I feel like I did the right thing.”
But, as it happens, Mackenzie isn’t the only bystander to have made a daring rescue in late 2017. Caleb Wadman also made the news in December of that year, after he was filmed saving a petrified animal from a raging wildfire. In this case, the 21-year-old had been driving along the highway when he spotted a wild rabbit frantic with fear.
And Wadman would talk to The Huffington Post about the situation, saying, “I just ran out. I had faith… and that’s when the bunny ran back towards the flames. And I was like, ‘No, baby bunny, I’m here. I’m going to take care of you.’” And once he had the rabbit, Wadman took it to the Conejo Valley Veterinary Hospital.
However, unlike the tale of Mackenzie’s antics, this story drew criticism as well as praise. In essence, some people were concerned that Wadman had put his own life at risk to save a wild rabbit. It was a good act, that much is true, but they argued that his actions were misguided.
One local commentator said, for instance, “I understand the tendency to turn to cute animals and stories of kindness for pick-me-ups. But trying to save wild animals from a fire is a stupid thing to do. We should not reward this behavior, and we should not encourage others to do the same.” Even so, though, acts like Mackenzie’s and Wadman’s prove that some people have plenty of good in them, after all.