When Michael Surrell saw his neighbor’s house was in flames, he didn’t think twice before going inside to save the little girl from a terrible fate.

It is always a natural, human instinct to want to protect those who are the most vulnerable, old or young. Michael Surrell falls into that category. At 64, Michael suffered from lung disease but when he saw that a young neighbor was trapped in a burning building, he didn’t hesitate to plunge into the flames.

He didn’t wait for the firemen to come

Michael and his wife had just parked on the corner of their street in Allentown, Pensylvania, when one of his daughters frantically screamed: “The house next door is on fire!”

He immediately rushed to the burning home and saw two women and a girl, freaking out on their porch. He knew the family was waiting for the fire department to come help, but he didn’t know if they’d get there in town. So, the  64-year-old man ran inside.

The “baby” in question was 8-year-old Tiara Roberts, the granddaughter of one of the two women–the other one was her aunt. Tiara was also a playmate of Michael’s own three kids, who were then 8, 10, and 12.

He had to try twice–but he didn’t give up

Michael ran into the burning house as quickly as he could which he said was like “running into a bucket of black paint.” Once he was inside, the thick smoke was nearly too much, and he went on to stumble blindly around, burned his eyes, and  couldn’t breathe.

The smoke and flames formed a hazardous condition for anyone. And for Michael, who suffered chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, this rescue mission could have been deadly.

After a few minutes, he had to come back outside to catch his breath. “Where is Tiara?” he asked. “The second floor,” her aunt shouted back.

Surrell knew he couldn’t hold his breath for long, so he prayed.

Well, Lord, this is it. You gotta help me, because I’m not coming out without that little girl.

He thought he would die up there

Michael took a deep breath, he dove back inside the terribly dark burning house. Thankfully, the house had a similar layout as his so he was able to make his way to the second floor.

“Baby girl, where are you?” Michael shouted.

His throat was burning. He could barely blink without his eyes stinging. At first, he could only hear the flames destroying the wooden foundation of the house. And then, he heard it, a small cry.

So Michael dropped on his knees and crawled his way to Tiara. While he thought he would die up there, he felt around trying to find the little girl. Finally, he felt a foot.

He pulled the little girl toward him and scooped her up and ran out of the house.

She wasn’t breathing and still, Michael refused to give up

Michael put Tiara down on the porch. She wasn’t breathing. “You have to breathe for her,” a voice in his head told him. He started performing CPR—the first time he’d ever done so.

Soon, Tiara’s throat opened up and she coughed. Michael gave five more breaths. She coughed again.

Michael hugged her tight and said, “Uncle’s got you.” Soon after that, his throat closed off.

Despite the aftermath, he would do it again

Michael woke up in the hospital a couple of days later. He ended up spending a week there–Tiara was released after a few days. He had severe burns on his windpipe and the upper portion of his lungs. His pulmonary condition, two years later, has worsened and he’s taking extra medication to help open his airways.

Even though the consequence on his health was major, Michael would never hesitate to do it again.

It’s a small price to pay. I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Wouldn’t give it a second thought.

Michael Surrell

Watch this Goalcast video to the hero of your own story:

More inspiring everyday heroes: