When Jayden Griggs awoke to a smoke alarm shrieking his first reaction could have been panic.
But 13-year-old Jayden’s cool, calm demeanor is credited with rousing his parents and sister during a devastating blaze that claimed their rural Delta home and two pets. His mother, Jessica, put it simply: “If it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t be here today. He saved our lives.”
On Jan. 22, Jayden was honored for his actions with a Smoke D.O.G. (Detector on Guard) Award from the Ohio Division of State Fire Marshal office. Fire Safety Educator Dale Schulte presented him with the commendation at a ceremony held at the Village of Delta municipal building.
And though the fire might qualify as Jayden’s scariest experience to date, he’s confident it has prepared him to navigate future difficulties just as calmly.
It was about 1 a.m. on Sept. 23, 2019, when the Delta Middle School student woke in his first floor bedroom to the piercing sound of a smoke detector at the Griggs home on County Road F. Confused at first, he smelled smoke, then noticed fire outside a window. He immediately went to alert his parents and nine-year-old sister, Juliana, who slept upstairs.
Just as his father Jesse had taught him, Jayden remained on the first floor, so a fire wouldn’t trap him upstairs. Yelling up the stairway, he woke his sister, who started down until Jayden told her to first alert their parents.
“I woke up to both of the kids yelling that there was a fire,” Jessica Grigg said.
Jayden had also grabbed the keys to the family’s vehicles before his parents ran down the stairs and hustled everyone out the front door. The electrical fire had started on the front porch, and was climbing the exterior wall.
As Jayden’s mother called 911 his father ran back inside the house to grab clothes and get the car keys, unaware that Jayden already had them. He lifted the family’s dog, Layla, but dropped her after she bit him. By then the front door was blocked, so Jesse Griggs escaped through a kitchen exit, assuming the dog was following.
But she wasn’t, and the fire made it impossible to return and attempt a rescue. Layla and Luna, the family cat he couldn’t locate, perished in the house.
The blaze destroyed the Griggs’ home and all of their possessions, with damage estimated at $136,000. The family stayed at a hotel for a couple of weeks before finding a rental property within Delta village limits.
Donations of clothes, furniture, money, and gift cards poured in from The Open Door of Delta, which offers community assistance, and from friends and strangers. The Barn Restaurant in the village held a benefit for the Griggs, and friends organized a bike run to raise money.
Jayden’s mother said she only saw a crack in her son’s cool demeanor after the fact. “I think it hit him, and he was upset and very emotional. But during it he was very calm and collected, and did what he was taught to do during this sort of situation,” she said.
Jayden said he maintained his composure until he stood in his yard and witnessed the scene. “Then I got scared because of how big the fire was,” he said. “When I was in the house I thought it was just in a corner.”
Delta Fire Chief Scott Smith arranged for Jayden to receive the Smoke D.O.G. award, which is usually reserved for juvenile heroes through the state fire marshal’s office. “In my opinion, it’s extraordinary when you save your entire family’s life,” Smith said.
Brian Bohnert, a spokesperson for the Ohio Division of State Fire Marshal, said the average person in Jayden’s predicament would likely react with panic and fear. “It’s kind of a testament to his ability to recognize the sound of the smoke alarm and have the wherewithal to know what to do,” Bohnert said. “There are a lot of people that, unfortunately, aren’t like this.”
He said a person has one to three minutes to safely escape a burning home once a smoke detector sounds. He said youth who receive the Smoke D.O.G. award “are the perfect example of how we recommend people react to the fire. Jayden knew to alert his family and get out of his home.”
The Griggs family remains in their rental home as a new house is built on the rural property. At Christmas, they welcomed a new dog, Stella.
Despite the award and the attention it brought, Jayden doesn’t consider himself a hero.
“Why would I?” he said. “I just did what I had to do when I had to do it.”
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-330-2010.