NIXA — Six-year-old Tyler Egan stayed up after his dad went to work at 6 a.m last Wednesday and, as he often does, started making a snack while everyone else slept.
He would never get that Pop-Tart.
Tyler was startled by the house alarm — it sounded like a police car siren — "I thought maybe somebody was breaking into the house," he recalls now.
Then Tyler put into action a lesson he'd just learned at school from a visiting firefighter.
And judging by the speed that the flames devoured their Nixa house that morning, Tyler's quick action likely saved his family, said his parents, Melissa and Troy Egan.
Today, his parents and his grandparents are holding Tyler up as a hero who did all the right things with calmness and clarity in a crisis.
Tyler went to the door leading to the basement and, careful not to touch the handle or the door — "The fireman told us not to touch the knob or the door because it could be hot" — he leaned down and smelled underneath. Smoke.
Tyler ran to a bedroom where his mom and little brother Todd were sleeping and woke them up.
"I told her there was smoke. I was calm..."
Melissa went to the security system control box, thinking it was a false alarm like one they had after moving into their new Nixa home three months earlier. She didn't smell smoke.
The box readout stated, "Smoke detected," so she peeked far enough down the basement steps to see smoke and flames shooting up 5 feet.
"Mommy, let's go. We need to get out of here," Tyler ordered, and told her to "get low," remembering the fireman's advice to duck below smoke.
"He was very calm, a lot calmer than I was," Melissa said. With Tyler and 3-year-old Todd nearby, Melissa grabbed a robe. Tyler grabbed their dog, Howie, and his leash, and they fled the house through the garage door. They jumped in the car, and Melissa drove it down the drive of their cul-de-sac in the Timberlake subdivision and down a lane. Melissa was worried about flames igniting their buried propane tank.
The security system and Melissa both alerted the fire department, then she made calls to her husband and family members.
At least 20 firefighters from Nixa, Highlandville, Clever and Ozark fought the blaze for six hours, Troy said.
Among them was the firefighter who had taught the safety lessons at school. Without that lesson, Tyler said, "I would have done the wrong stuff."
The flames, which apparently started in the basement, found their way into the ventilation ducts and shot up and through the house with a fury, Troy said.
In the aftermath, Tyler grew concerned. "Mom, what about my backpack?" — it held his homework. His teacher at Matthews Elementary School quickly reassured him it didn't matter and that she wouldn't make him redo it.
As investigators try to determine the cause of the blaze in the 3-month-old, custom-built home, the Egans continue combing the debris for personal items. And every once in a while, they discover a gem: A plaster mold of both boys' baby-size feet and hands were untouched by flames, though the plastic dome covering them had melted.
A fire investigator found Melissa's jewelry drawer and in it, though blackened with soot, were her wedding ring and a bracelet made of tiny picture frames that held baby pictures of Todd and Tyler. A neighbor took it home and cleaned it up, and Melissa has it again. She found some of Tyler's soccer shirts unharmed, and several Matchbox cars that Troy had handed down to his boys.
More treasures came through friendship. Family members, neighbors and coworkers from across the St. John's Health System have donated clothes, shoes, toys, toiletries and money, Melissa said. Walmart donated contact lenses and cleaner to Troy since his spare pair went up in flames. Neighbors took sacks of photographs from the rubble and cleaned and dried them out.
"Everyone in the community has been amazing, especially with the economy the way it is," Melissa said.
For the time being, the Egans are living with Melissa's parents and plan to rebuild on the original site.
Tyler has turned the family tragedy into a lesson for others. He talked to his first-grade class about the fire and how he put their recent lessons to work.
And to that fireman who taught the lesson, Tyler said he hopes he can say soon, "I got out safely ... and thank you."