Friends' bond strengthens after fire rescue

MECHANICSVILLE, VA (WWBT) - How far would you go for a friend?

Kirk Rohle and Ben Rogers have been inseparable for almost their entire lives.  The Mechanicsville natives friendship proved stronger than fear, pain and even logic, on a cold night in January that put them in a life or death situation.

The pair had met when they were 8 years old, and instantly began competing in sports against each other.  When the Rohles moved across the street from the Rogers, the two became joined at the hip.  They played youth football together, high school football together at Hanover, and then they went together to play football at Hampden-Sydney.

Just four months before graduation, the end of their long road together, something happened at their dorm that proved just how close their friendship was.

Slightly after 4am, a smoldering cigarette ash set the Benedict House on fire.  Also known as the Tiger Athletic Club House located just a mile off campus, the older building burned quickly.  Rohle, and seven other residents were awoken and rushed outside.  They realized they were one short - Rogers was still inside.

Immediately, Rohle rushed back inside the building to look for his friend. He checked each room, but the smoke was very thick, and by the time he got to the end of the house, he couldn't find Ben, and he was stuck.

Meanwhile, Rogers had been able to find his way out of the house.  By the time he had found his way outside, he realized his friend, was now the only one back inside the house.

The smoke was so thick at this point, Rohle could not see a thing in the house.  He had to feel his way through the burning building - an effort that would leave him with 2nd degree burns on both of his hands.

He eventually wound up on the bottom floor, and luckily was able to feel around until he found the tiled bathroom - one of the only markers that he could recognize where he was.  Through the smoke, Rohle says he saw a single light in the distance.  He's still not sure what that was, but he ran to it, broke through the glass of a window, and wound up on the other side.  Just a few moments after his friend Ben had made it out.

Rohle spent 41 days at MCV with 2nd and 3rd degree burns on his feet, hands and arms. Rogers had limited injuries to his face and ears.

Just a few weeks later, the pair was welcomed as heroes to their commencement. The featured speaker, sportscaster Verne Lundquist, honored the two by telling their story.  They were the final two to walk across the stage, while their classmates chanted their names.

They actually didn't get their degrees that day - they still have credits to make up from when Kirk was in the hospital, and Ben was by his side, day after day.

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