RIVERTON — Pittsburg Firefighter Alex Stewart planned to spend his day off shopping with his family Tuesday, but that agenda took a detour when he responded to a fire in Riverton.

Alex and his wife Taylin, a registered nurse at Freeman Health System, traveled to Joplin Tuesday morning for Taylin’s staff meeting, and planned to spend the rest of the day Christmas shopping. But when Stewart spotted smoke, the plan was temporarily derailed.

“As we turned off of Highway 69, we saw smoke,” he said. “I originally thought it was someone burning leaves, but as we got around the turn, I saw flames coming from a back window.”

Stewart said he knew he had to stop, as there were no firefighters or emergency responders around. He and his wife got out of the vehicle. Stewart began checking windows, while Taylin called 911 and evacuated neighbors.

“It was about 7:15 in the morning and there was a car in the driveway,” Stewart said. “So my first thought was that someone may be home.”

Stewart checked as many rooms as he could through the windows, and did not see anyone in the home. After speaking with the neighbors, he learned that a family did live in the home, and that they may have pets.

Stewart breached the door and entered the home. He checked the living room — the only room he couldn’t see through the windows — as best he could without any bunker gear, and was able to evacuate a dog from the house.

Once he was confident no one else was in the house, he exited and waited for first responders to arrive. When they did, he stayed to assist them.

When Galena Fire Chief Bill Hall arrived on the scene, he saw Alex assisting firefighters as they tried to extinguish the fire.

“When we got there, Alex was busy hooking up a hose to a hydrant. He was a great help to us,” Hall said in a release. “Both he and his wife saved us a lot of anguish by letting us know there was no one in the house.”

Hall, who leads Galena’s volunteer fire department, expressed his gratitude for the extra help.

“If any more time had passed, there could have been more damage. I told him he’s welcome to help us fight fires anytime.”

Stewart has been with Pittsburg Fire Department for just over three years, and before that served on a volunteer department in Riley County while attending Kansas State University.

He started his career as a firefighter at 18 as a volunteer in his hometown of Minneola, Kansas. He and his wife came to Pittsburg when she began in the nursing program at Pittsburg State University.

— Chance Hoener is a staff writer for the Morning Sun. He can be emailed at choener@morningsun.net or follow him on Twitter @ReporterChance.