SUMTER - A 7-year-old Thomas Sumter Academy student was recently honored by the Sumter Fire Department for saving her parents from a house fire in September.
Olivia Diller, who woke her parents up in the middle of the night when their house caught fire, received the Sumter Fire Department's Bravery and Valor Award, which the department started in March to highlight and promote young students who successfully practice fire safety. This was the second time the department has presented the award, the first going to a Cherryvale Elementary School student who saved his mother and baby sister when his house caught fire.
"She has done a great job for her community, and she has done a great job for her parents," said Johnnie Rose, battalion chief for the Sumter Fire Department.
Speaking in front of Olivia's classmates at the Thomas Sumter auditorium, Rose said that 57 deaths in South Carolina in 2013 were caused by fires, but that Olivia's heroism kept the total from reaching 60.
"I am so very proud of her, and it makes you feel so good to know that the kids are learning," Rose said. "If the kids take this information in and learn from it, they let their parents know because they go home and say stuff like 'Mom and Dad, I learned about fire prevention,' and the parents should listen to their kids."
Thomas Sumter Headmaster Debbie Nix also spoke to the students to praise Olivia and to teach them about real bravery.
"Actors and musicians are not heroes," Nix said to the students in the auditorium. "A hero can be anyone, even a little girl with a beautiful smile and pretty blonde hair."
Olivia's parents, Joel and Elizabeth, couldn't be more proud of their daughter, nor more grateful for what the school and the fire department have done for her, they said.
"It's phenomenal how the school and the community have come together to recognize her," Joel Diller said. "I thank God every day that my little angel woke us up."
Both of Olivia's parents remember everything that occurred the night of the fire at their Camden home. Olivia woke up about 4:30 a.m. to the sounds of crumbling and cracking outside her bedroom window, so she opened the blinds to see that the back porch deck was on fire. She rushed into her parents' bedroom to calmly tell her parents.
"By the time we jumped out of bed and went into the kitchen, the back deck was already spreading and moving, and it was so huge," said Elizabeth Diller. "Once we saw it, we immediately grabbed our dog and ran out to the front yard."
Within two minutes, the fire had begun to engulf the entire house. So extensively damaged was the house that to this day, the cause of the fire has never been determined.
After living in a rental house for two weeks after the fire, the family eventually found more comforting shelter with Elizabeth's stepmother, whose husband passed away a few days before the fire.
Recovery has not been easy for the family, but the people around them - from friends at their church to their home contractor - have made it easier.
"Looking back, you never forget the heat, and you never forget the smell," Elizabeth Diller said. "For whatever reason it happened, every day since then has been one blessing after another."
Even after the fire, Olivia continued to be brave for her family while enduring the loss they suffered in September.
"For the first two months, she would sleep by our window to make sure if we were all right," Joel said. "There are times where she would be so overwhelmed by the attention that she would want some time for herself or just find a change in atmosphere."