It’s hard to tell the Roberson kids apart by their names. There’s Deundra Rashawn. He’s the son of Kenyatta Roberson. Then there’s Jamario Deundra and Deundra, Jr. They’re the sons of Tiffany, Kenyatta’s sister. Yep, they’re cousins.
It’s far easier to tell them apart physically. Deundra Rashawn, 18, is tall and lean; he just finished his last season as a guard on Columbia Heights’ basketball team and has been scouted for college teams. Jamario, 16, plays football; he’s built square and muscular. It’s easy to picture him making tackles and holding the line. Deundra, Jr.,15, is smaller. He also plays basketball but says he’s “not up there” with Deundra Rashawn.
The three young men were recognized by the Columbia Heights City Council last month for their selfless assistance during a house fire that occurred on the 4500 block of Fillmore Street NE on March 3.
“I was sitting in my mom’s car,” said Deundra, Jr. “I saw my auntie running, and I saw the smoke, so I went home and changed my shoes.”
“I was looking out my window when I saw my little cousin run down the street,” recalled Jamario. “I thought, where’s she going?” When his cousin changed his shoes and started running, he decided to follow.
A woman stood outside in the snow in her pajamas. She held a baby in her arms. “She said her mom was in the house,” Jamario said. “My first instinct was to get the gate open and get her out of the house. I didn’t know if we’d have time to get her out.”
The house was fully engulfed and heavy black smoke billowed from it. The Robersons ran to the back of the house, where they found a ladder and an ax. Jamario climbed the ladder and smashed a top window with the ax. “I could hear her [the mother] in the distance. She was near the front of the house were all the flames and smoke were.”
Down on the ground, Deundra, Jr., took off his jacket and gave it to the pajama-clad woman to put around the baby, who was naked. Then he ran home and got a blanket to wrap them both. His mother, Tiffany, was in a panic over her sons. “I couldn’t see them behind that fence,” she said. “I didn’t know what was going on.”
Deundra Rashawn smashed out other windows. The heat was intense. He and Jamario prepared to go into the house. “I was on the ladder,” recalled Jamario, “and I heard someone yell, ‘The car’s on fire!’ Two minutes later, there was a big explosion. Boom! The car was blown up and the fire got even bigger.”
“There was another car parked behind it,” said Deundra, Jr., “and a firefighter and a fire truck right behind it. It was a pretty big explosion. I’m thankful the firefighters were safe.”
The fire moved quickly toward the back of the house, and the building was close to collapsing when Fire and Police arrived and took over the scene. Jamario assisted the Fire Department with their fire hoses by dragging them to hydrants, in one case over 500 feet away.
The woman inside was eventually rescued alive, and was transported to the hospital. “Some of her skin was peeled off,” said Jamario, “and she wasn’t breathing on her own, so they put her on oxygen.” (At the time of this interview, the woman was still in intensive care but was breathing and doing things on her own.)
The Robersons agreed that their upbringing and “instinct” compelled them to go to their neighbor’s aid. They’re the oldest of six cousins. The younger ones, said Deundra, Jr., “look up to us. When they see us doing good, they’ll grow up and good and helping others.”
“It’s how our heart is out to people, no matter who it is, no matter what race. If we all stick together, we can make people’s lives better. That’s all we were thinking about at the time,” said Jamario.
Is firefighting in their future? No, they said. Jamario wants to work with handicapped people. Deundra, Jr., wants to design and sell shoes. Deundra Rashawn wants to start his own business. All three want to make their homes in Columbia Heights when they’re adults.
Though they don’t see themselves as heroes, since they received the Citizens Award of Commendation, reality is starting to hit. “This is a small area. Word gets out fast,” said Deundra Rashawn, who’s used to having people come and talk to him about basketball. “Now they’re talking to me about something else. It’s different. They see that I can do something outside of basketball.”
“I have all these people walking up to me and saying, ‘I heard what you did,’” said Deundra, Jr. He continued, awestruck, “I actually did that. This is something I’ve never done before. It’s something new and heavy on me.”
“It’s something we don’t want to experience again,” said Jamario, “but if we do, we’re alert, we know what to do.”
Below: The burned house on the 4500 block of Fillmore Street N.E. (Photo by Cynthia Sowden). Left to right: Cousins Jamario Deundra Roberson, Deundra Roberson, Deundra Rashawn Roberson, were given a Citizens Award of Commendation by Fire Chief Gary Gorman, Police Sergeant Matt Markham, Mayor Donna Schmitt. (Photo provided by Columbia Heights Police Department)