A massive condo fire, a man trapped inside, and firefighters climbing a 35 foot ladder and battling through flames to reach him. All as a bystander recorded amazing video of the rescue.
It’s video thousands of people saw on Facebook, of a large fire inside a Sea Cloisters condo. But what it’s like to be inside that fire, fighting it and trying to save the elderly man inside. Only the multiple companies of firefighters from Hilton Head Fire truly know.
“We have a saying in the fire department, we risk a lot to save a lot,” said Hilton Head Fire Captain Dave Bell. “This was a textbook situation that fit that.”
“When we came around the back with the ladder he was on the balcony already.” remembers Hilton Head Fire Apparatus Operator Joe Zoffoli, who was climbing the 35 foot ladder to the condo balcony. There was heavy smoke and flames coming through the balcony he was knelt down, yelling screaming.”
“I could hear the gentleman screaming,: said Captain Bell. “So we made a decision to try and stay in there as long as we could to see if we could locate him.”
“All this was nothing but fire,” pointed out Bell inside the burned out apartment. “We had a changing of conditions and only momentarily, this little avenue is all i saw. Daylight and I could see what looked like a person out on the balcony and thats what we went to.”
“We were to the point where we didn’t have a lot of options< said Bell. “It was either back out and in not so many terms admit self defeat or we were going to have to find a way to get through it. By being persistent, by relying on our training up until this point, we got what i like to call kind of a break, and it worked well for us that we were able to stick with it and push through.”
“Probably in that room it was 1000 degrees,” remembers Lt Jay Lawson. “Everything was on fire. So he’s lucky he made it to the balcony.
“Firefighter Karshner and I ended up pushing through the burning living room to the balcony where we encountered the victim,” explains Bell.
“It was the same time one of the doors had failed and the heat and smoke intensified exponentially,” says Zoffoli. “We came out to the building here and the fire and smoke was blowing out to the beach. So our only exit was right here over this railing. Captain Bell and Jason Karshner coming out of that door I was glad to have them help me get the victim out of the building and on to the ladder, to get the rescue going.”
“We don’t usually have video proof of whats happened,” said Captain Bell. “and hopefully you can show people the dangers of this job, and how quickly things can turn for the worst.”
“We never think anything we do is heroic, its part of the job” said Lawson. “Its what we love to do.”
“This is definitely one that will stick with me through the end of my career,” explains Bell.
The elderly man did suffer smoke inhalation and was taken to the hospital but should be ok. Unfortunately his two dogs did perish in the blaze and his home was a total loss.