Salt Rock, W.Va. -- Just like a scene from a comic book, John 'Batman" Buckland made his way into a burning house Saturday in Milton dressed as a superhero and rescued a cat.
Buckland and Troy "Captain America" Marcum showed up at the scene in costume. Buckland, 43, made his way inside, felt something furry, grabbed it and ran back out.
"I didn't care what it was. I didn't care if it was a Chia pet. It was coming out with me," Buckland said. "I ran outside and placed it on the yard and was shocked to find that it was a cat."
The cat was struggling to breathe and Buckland began giving it rescue breaths.
"Once the cat came to, it gave me the nastiest hiss and growl I have ever seen," Buckland said. "The reaction from the cat was priceless. It was pretty funny. You had the whole Batman, Catwoman thing playing."
Following the rescue, Buckland was given oxygen as precaution because he inhaled smoke while inside.
Buckland said he gathered the children that were nearby and made them swear not to tell anyone "who Batman really is."
Buckland and Marcum were in the neighborhood for an appearance in front of local children and veterans at the American Legion.
One veteran pointed out the smoke and suggested someone was burning trash. Buckland, a former firefighter, knew the smoke was too brown for trash and rushed to the home.
"My main concern was making sure that no one was inside the home," Buckland said. "I sprinted into action. Captain (Marcum) threw a rock to break the window, which allowed smoke to escape the front room. I and my buddy Tank were able to push the door open so I could enter."
Buckland battled blazes in Georgia for nearly eight years. He then served as a contracted firefighter for the Department of Defense from 2009 to 2011.
He worked at several U.S. bases including Camp Liberty in Baghdad and Camp Kalsu in Iskandariya. He responded to mass casualties and eventually worked in the fire safety division.
He said his firefighting experience preconditioned him to be Batman. While overseas, he wore equipment that sometimes totaled more than 80 pounds.
The Batman suit Buckland wears is all black and is made of heavy material. He says he is used to it and is glad he can be a positive influence to the youth.
Buckland founded Heroes 4 Higher a year ago. He didn't want the organization to consist of costume appearance events where people take photos and leave.
Instead, he wanted to dress in costume and travel to area schools, churches and private events to share a repeated message to never give up, do the right thing, help others in need and don't be a bully.
He founded the organization in response to the drug, bullying and broken home situation happening locally and on the national level.
Buckland spoke to students at Salt Rock Elementary School in Cabell County Monday about bullying and "Stranger Danger." He told students if they do not know someone, they should not go with them.
When he addresses high school audiences, he incorporates a drug curriculum and informs them of the dangers of drug use.
According to its website, Heroes 4 Higher is working with Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and statewide efforts to address the ongoing drug epidemic.
Buckland said he had a struggle with drugs while a student and turned his life around by getting involved in fire services, serving in Iraq and now teaches children to look for opportunities to make a difference anywhere they go. He brings a message of hope and makes it a point to tell students they don't have to be a product of their past.
Buckland is a spiritual person and is able to share a faith-based message at area churches. He said Jesus is the ultimate superhero.
In addition to schools and churches, Buckland visits with children at Cabell-Huntington Hospital who have had a bad day or are suffering from serious injuries. He also does personal visits with children that have cancer or are dealing with other personal issues.
Buckland's organization has five available characters, including Batman, Batgirl, Captain America and Spiderman. He has nearly $4,000 invested in each costume and makes sure they look and feel real.
"When you're working with kids, you can't show up with something cheap," Buckland said. "They deserve something spot-on. If you impress them from the beginning, their hearts will open up."
Buckland's wife, Ronda, typically plays Batgirl and the two have a 1-year-old daughter named Skylar.
Buckland said he is a stay-at-home father and makes public appearances on the side. He said he enjoys spending time with his daughter because his father was in the U.S. Air force and barely had the time to spend with him as a child.
"It's important for me to give her time each day," Buckland said.
Since Buckland's cat rescue story broke over the weekend, he has received much media attention. He was featured on Good Morning America, CNN, Huffington Post and others.
"It's been crazy," Buckland said. "I've always been mission first. I want kids to know that they can make a difference in this world. My mission is not about a cat or Batman. I want people to take time to tend to the needs of the community.
"Everyone can be Batman. Everyone can be a superhero.
"I was simply in the right place at the right time," he said. "I was gracious to have been able to help rescue the cat. The family was distraught at the loss of their home but it's the little things like photos or pets that can make all the difference in helping the family get over their loss."
Buckland said he received an email from a mother who said she was walking past her kids' room and noticed them playing with their Batman toys with their family kitten.
"They were playing Batman rescues cat," he said with a laugh.
Contact writer John Gibb at 304-348-1796 or john.g...@dailymail.com.