The house on Lydia Lane was ablaze, and when the first Statesboro Fire Department truck arrived, Capt. Chris Whitehead and Firefighter Second-Class Steven Morris had no time to waste. Immediately upon arriving Tuesday night they learned a 12-year-old boy was trapped inside.
Morris and Whitehead were inside, searching bedrooms first after family members who escaped told them his bedroom was the most likely place the boy would be located. A quick and searing search of three bedrooms - nothing, Whitehead said.
As the flames shot higher and a "flash over" occurred, the danger increased. Firefighters Lee Nesmith and Blake Lane streamed water into the flames as Whitehead and Morris continued to search. Suddenly, everything seemed to reach its ignition point at the same time and part of the house exploded in one blinding firestorm.
With the fire rushing overhead, Whitehead fell back over Morris, spraying the flames and protected himself as well as his partner. The reaction was part of his training; there was no time to think, only to react, he said.
Morris and Whitehead had what they call their "attack lines" with them, but they relied on team members to help protect them as they looked for the child.
"The conditions continued to get worse," Whitehead said. "We continued to search but we could not find the child."
Not giving up in spite of the blaze growing ever more fierce, the firefighters kept looking, and found what they first thought was a pile of clothing on the floor of the parents' bedroom.
But when Morris felt something solid, "We knew it was the boy," Whitehead said. "Steven grabbed his arms and I grabbed his legs and out the door we went" as other team members kept them doused with water and cleared a path.
As the firefighters exited the door with the child, Bulloch County EMS was ready. They whisked him away, treating him for immediate needs as they transported him to East Georgia Regional Medical Center, where he was airlifted to a burn center in Augusta, Whitehead said.
The boy was limp and unresponsive when they brought him out, affected by the smoke and the fright from being entrapped in the fire, and he suffered second-degree burns. However, Whitehead, Morris and others involved in the Tuesday night fire on Lydia Lane were overjoyed to hear he was listed in stable condition the next day.
Despite braving the flames and risking their own lives to save the boy, Morris and Whitehead claimed what they did was only their job. They pointed out the help from other firefighters, Statesboro Police officers who responded, and others at the scene.
As other Statesboro Fire Department units arrived at the scene Tuesday, so did Bulloch County Fire Department volunteers, responding as part of a mutual aid agreement between the city and county. Everyone worked together as a team to douse the fire, and most importantly, save the child's life, officials said.
Still, it was great to know the boy would be OK, Whitehead said.
"It feels good to know we were able to do what is expected of us,' 'he said.
After the fire, before they heard how the boy was doing, he asked himself "Could we have done anything better or different?"
There was no question about entering the blazing house when they heard a child was trapped inside, Morris said. His thoughts were not of his own safety, but "We have to find him. There are no other options."
After the incident, when the child was whisked away by EMS, Morris wondered about his chances.
"Was it all for naught or did we get to him in time?" he said.
The outcome was "a whole lot better than the alternative," Whitehead said.
Both men shunned being called heroes, although some may feel differently.
"It was a collaboration of a lot of talented guys," Morris said. "And the county guys - they donated their time to help us."
Both he and Whitehead said the response went like clockwork, with everyone working together to fight the fire and recue the boy.
"It couldn't have been done without everybody putting forth their best effort," Morris said.
"Those guys did risk a lot to save a lot," said Statesboro Fire Commander Tim Grams. "I am super proud of them. They went above and beyond the call of duty. They faced some pretty heavy situations inside the house."
What they did "gave that young man a pretty good shot" at surviving and recovering well, he said. If they had not reacted so quickly and efficiently, he would not have survived."
Training and bravery went hand in hand, and saved not only the boy, but he firefighters, Grams said.
"These are the types of moments we train for. There is no time to think - basically, you just go off of your training."
He agreed other firefighters and responders played a vital role in the rescue. "It was a complete team effort. The second unit of firefighters to arrive saved the first firefighters from being victims."
Statesboro Public Safety Director Wendell Turner also had high praise for the response.
"If it had not been for the team efforts from everyone involved from the two firefighters who rescued the young boy, Capt. Whitehead and Firefighter Morris, to the other firefighters attacking the fire, from the Bulloch County fire department personnel supporting the fire attack, to the Statesboro Police officers blocking the intersections for the fire apparatus to make a speedy response, this could have been a tragic outcome," he said. "We hope that our citizens realize that they are protected and served by professionals who are willing to put themselves in harm's way for the life of the people they serve. This is a good example of the selfless service of our firefighters and the overall team efforts of all our public safety employees. They did an excellent job."
Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.