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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

In times of crisis heroes emerge

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Photos by Jody Shackelford
"I thought I was going to burn alive," Viola Assistant Fire Chief Charlene Crowl said as she recalled the accident that left her and fellow firefighter Lena Sutterfield trapped in a burning home April 22. "He saved our lives."

Viola Fire Chief Boyd Dailey rescued Crowl and Sutterfield after the floor collapsed from under their feet minutes before the $175,000 home of Richard Munson, located west of Viola, was consumed by flames.

"We received the fire call and arrived on scene around 10:31 a.m. at 45 Shady Oaks, to find smoke coming out of the crawl space vents. Amy Rucker and myself suited up and got everything set up for entry," Dailey said.

"We had to bust the glass out of the front door because it was locked. When we entered, we found the fire and knocked it down, what we could see of it. Then we set up ventilation so we could see a little better. It took us a while to get in there and I ran out of air in my airpack so we had to come out," Dailey said.

While Dailey changed his air tank, he sent in two firefighters to continue the assault not knowing the group was moments from disaster.

"We always go in two-in, two-out. If one comes out, everyone comes out. I then instructed Charlene Crowl and Lena Sutterfield to where we had found the fire," he said.

"We always work in teams of two and we always have a backup team ready to go in. They proceeded to engage the fire and Charlene was testing the floor. She done everything by the book and the floor was fine," he said.

"When she leaned around the corner to see what kind of fire was there, the floor caved in on her and she fell through into the crawl space," Dailey said.

Sutterfield ran outside and yelled to gather help for Crowl.

"They had just got my air bottle changed and I rushed back in there. When we went back in, Lena just disappeared on me," he said.

Sutterfield also found herself in the clutches of the fire as she fell through the same hole that captured Crowl.

"I landed on my back," Crowl said. "The house was so full of smoke Lena couldn't see me and she fell in on top of me. When she did, I thought the ceiling and walls caved in. I really thought I was buried and was going to burn," she said.

"I could feel the heat on my shoulder and the fire was getting close to me. I just kept screaming and screaming hoping someone would find us. From that point on until they drug me out of the house, it's all a blur," Crowl said.

Terrified and helpless, Crowl said as she laid there amidst the chaos, she thought of a recent tragedy in South Carolina. "About a year ago, seven firefighters died in a furniture fire. I thought, 'I am going to burn alive just like they did' I know now that those guys who burnt in the furniture fire died in fear," Crowl said.

With Sutterfield and Crowl lost in the black vail, Dailey began his search for his colleagues.

"I could hear them screaming down below me. I couldn't see them because it was so smokey. So, I laid down on the floor and found what felt like a helmet or something," he said. Dailey searched for a sleeve, a collar, anything to grab a hold of and pulled.

"I didn't know who I had, I just knew I had somebody and I got that person up onto the floor and it was Lena Sutterfield," Dailey said.

In a barrage of smoke, Sutterfield was not able to breathe, so Dailey ripped off his helmet and his mask and began buddy breathing. Once Sutterfield was on the floor, Dailey, with no mask, turned his attention to Crowl still in the flames below.

"When Sutterfield was safe and out of the fire I commenced to find Charlene. I could still hear her but I couldn't see her. She was scared to death, I was scared to death," Dailey said.

Blinded by smoke, Dailey with his last bit of strength, managed to pull Crowl from the flames.

"I tried to drag her out of the house but by then I was exhausted. I went outside and instructed the other firefighters that they were up on the floor and they were safe. I just didn't have the strength left to get them out," Dailey said.

Once Sutterfield and Crowl were brought out of the burning house they were placed on oxygen as was Dailey. Fulton County Ambulance paramedics assisted and inspected the team.

"We had the fire knocked down but when we went in to rescue we lost the fire. At that point the fire had gotten so out of hand we had to do an outside assault on the house," Dailey said. "When you're out like that you don't really have enough water, if it is big, to knock it down again."

Fire departments from Byron, Camp, Salem and Gepp brought in firefighters and water to assist but the intensity of the fire became too overwhelming to save the house.

According to the fire report, lightning was the cause of the fire. Munson, owner of the home, was not present during the event. The fire completely destroyed the house although Munson confirmed the 1,400 square foot home was insured.

After the events of April 22 unfolded no one suffered any major injuries except for a few cuts and bruises, Dailey said.

"He saved our lives. He could have killed himself. He inhaled a lot of smoke and really scared us," Crowl said.

"Thank God we are all OK. We lost a lot of equipment but that is replaceable. We are not," she said.


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