Man survives fire thanks to firefighter

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 4, 2002

A local resident survived a midnight fire Wednesday morning because firefighters arrived on the scene to lead him to safety through a burning, smoke-filled apartment.

Suffolk Fire Captain Jim Judkins said Fire and Rescue Captain Jack C. &uot;Chuck&uot; Knight was just doing his job when he pulled Willie Whitfield from the smoky ruins of the First Avenue apartment.

&uot;The other firefighters were pulling hoses and Capt. Knight was just doing his job,&uot; said Judkins. &uot;He went into the apartment and heard the man moving around. When Capt. Knight found Mr. Whitfield, he was disoriented and the captain led him out of the apartment to awaiting firefighters. Another upstairs occupant of the apartment building was able to escape the structure on his own. Both men were medically treated at the scene &uot;

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Knight said Whitfield had wrapped himself in a brown blanket trimmed in orange and yellow.

&uot;If it hadn’t been for the bright colors on that blanket I wouldn’t have seen the man,&uot; said Knight. &uot;Once I saw that it was moving and I knew it was a person trying to find their way out. I went towards him and he was about 16 feet away from me. He was disoriented and I reached around his middle and told him to get down close to escape the smoke. Had he been on his knees he probably could have seen the light through the door. I started pulling him, with my arms under his, and tried to get him out. About the time we got to the front, he was so disoriented that he went back toward the fiery room. Lt. Tommy Thomasson came and helped get him to the door again and we were able to get him out. We then did a search of the apartment and found no other victims. It was a team effort between us and the firefighters pulling the hoses to fight the fire.&uot;

Knight said he did nothing heroic, and only acted on the experience and training acquired through years of fire service.

Judkins said firefighters responded to the apartment shortly before midnight and found heavy smoke pouring from the right rear corner of the two-story wood-frame duplex structure.

Observers at the scene advised fire and rescue personnel that the occupants were still inside and that’s when Capt. Knight literally raced to the front door where he heard someone moving around.

&uot;At that point, choking smoke was banking (rolling) to the floor,&uot; said Judkins. &uot;Capt. Knight had full protective gear on and he entered the apartment’s hallway and found Mr. Whitfield.&uot;

Judkins added that flames in the apartment were quickly controlled but firefighting teams remained on the scene until 1:37 a.m.

Acting Battalion Chief Charles R. Jolly said the fire was contained in the bedroom with only minor extension to other rooms. However, the rest of the apartment sustained smoke damage. The fire also melted vinyl siding on the neighboring home.

Judkins said the Suffolk Chapter of the American Red Cross is providing temporary shelter for Whitfield. Harris was able to return to his apartment upstairs from Whitfield’s once firefighters gave the &uot;all clear.&uot;