Three Statesboro Fire Department firefighters were awarded the Statesboro Medal of Valor while a total of 13 received the department’s Unit Citation Medal on Tuesday for saving at least two people’s lives in a July apartment fire.
Statesboro Fire Chief Tim Grams presented the medals at the 9 a.m. City Council meeting so that the mayor and council members could shake the firefighters’ hands. Their lifesaving actions followed a 4:09 a.m. alarm call July 9 to the two-story apartment building at 242 Georgia Avenue. The dispatch indicated that at least two people were trapped.
Arriving, firefighters found heavy smoke and fire conditions in the second floor and attic area, the incident report states.
“The first victim was found hanging outside a second-story window that had smoke billowing from it, and the second victim was located in an interior room of an apartment on the second floor of the building,” Grams narrated to the council. “The firefighters without hesitation and with a tremendous amount of poise took action to rescue these two victims as well as contain and eventually extinguish the blaze.”
Lt. Brad Bouchillon from Engine 3 climbed a portable extension ladder at that window and helped the first victim, a man, climb down, according to Grams and the incident report narrative.
Engine 2 personnel Lt. Rabon Hutchinson and Firefighter Marcel Farmer went in the front door. They “engaged in an interior fire attack,” pulling a firehose upstairs through heavy smoke, and searched for the other victim, Grams said. The apartment where the second victim, a woman, was found was down the hall from the apartment where the fire started and where most of the flames remained, but a larger area was affected by heat and smoke, Grams said.
Hutchinson and Farmer carried the woman down the stairs, and other firefighters took her outside, the incident report states. A portion of the report narrative states that the woman “was unconscious during extrication, but once placed on the sidewalk away from the structure, she began to stir, her eyes were open, and she was breathing.”
Medal of Valor
Grams presented Bouchillon, Hutchinson and Farmer with the Statesboro Medal of Valor “for their outstanding actions as well as their display of courage and selflessness.”
He had actually presented the SFD Unit Citation Medal first, to all 13 firefighters from the shift that had been on duty and so was first to respond. The incident narrative notes some of the actions of the others, from connecting hoses to using a thermal imaging camera and flashlight to make sure hot spots were cooled down. Firefighters used breathing apparatus, and teams such as Hutchinson and Farmer came out for recovery as they ran out of air, and others entered.
Farmer is one of the Statesboro Fire Department’s newer members, having joined it just over one year ago after previous service with the Savannah department.
“It feels special, but I feel like, you know, that I’m just able to do my job and help someone in need,” he said after the presentation.
The Unit Citation – and there was an actual medal for each of the 13 honorees – can be awarded to “any group of two or more fire department members who make up a company, shift, sector, team or workgroup that has performed in an outstanding manner worthy of recognition,” Grams recited.
Battalion Chief Steven Morris, as the chief officer on duty at the time and the incident commander, recommended the other 12 members for the medal. Under the guidelines, Grams was then able to approve it after a formal review of the unit’s actions.
“During the incident, all responding personnel played a vital role to produce a positive outcome,” Morris wrote in his recommendation. “This incident brought great challenges for all involved, including multiple victims in need of rescue, heavy fire conditions, as well as the fire location itself. All responding personnel performed flawlessly and with great professionalism to overcome these challenges.”
Capt. Stacy Wilson, Lt. Derek Stoddard, Fire Apparatus Operator Caleb New, Fire Apparatus Operator Jon Patterson, Firefighter Timothy Bartholomay, Firefighter Cody Hanna, Firefighter Casey Perkins, Firefighter Trey Seamans, Firefighter Robert Telgen, as well as Bouchillon, Hutchinson, Farmer and Morris, share in the unit citation.
Noting that Morris had not recommended himself for a medal, Grams indicated that he added the battalion chief in recognition of his leadership.
“The manner in which all these individuals performed their duties the morning of July 9, 2018, embodies the professionalism, dedication and character that Statesboro Fire Department wants and expects in all of its members,” Grams told the council and its audience.
The building at 242 Georgia Avenue is leased by Pineland Behavioral Health-Developmental Disabilities for use as crisis respite apartments. The agency had six adults staying there in separate apartments at the time of the fire.
Pineland BHDD Executive Director June DiPolito came to Tuesday’s meeting and presented some copies of an appreciation plaque of her own. She told the firefighters she could never thank them enough or express enough pride.
“When I got the call at 4 o’clock in the morning that our crisis respite apartments were on fire, of course my first thought was our six individuals were going to be burned up,” DiPolito said. “My second thought was, no, the Statesboro Fire Department was going to come, and as I pulled up and saw all the trucks, I knew there was going to be a positive outcome, because we have the greatest fire department ever.”
Interviewed Tuesday, DiPolito said she had counted the firefighters as having rescued three of the residents, after the other three got out on their own.
Two of the fire survivors were hospitalized. One, apparently the woman Hutchinson and Farmer brought down the stairs, remained in a hospital several weeks and was only recently released, DiPolito said. Some of the apartment residents had signed releases to appear with the firefighters in award photos, but they are not being named here.
Bulloch County Fire Department members, Statesboro firefighters from other shifts and other emergency personnel also responded July 9. The SFD’s investigation determined the fire was accidental, from cooking activity in a kitchen area.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.