Sept. 19, 2020
Pensacola Fire and Police Rescue Residents from House Fire During Hurricane
As Hurricane Sally made landfall and brought 100+ mph winds and torrential rainfall to the Pensacola area, Pensacola Fire Department dispatch received a desperate call for help in the early morning hours of Wednesday, Sept. 16.
A house was on fire, and two residents were standing on their porch in the middle of a hurricane to escape the flames. Another resident was still inside the home.
Like other first responders in the area, Pensacola Fire Department was temporarily not responding to calls due to unsafe conditions from Hurricane Sally – but they couldn’t let this one go.
“In our line of work, when something like that comes in, that’s when it’s go time for us,” Pensacola Fire Battalion Chief Charles Walters said. “We’re willing to risk everything, so we made the call to go ahead and send companies and respond. Because had we not responded, it might have been a horrible thing – so we risked everything in a storm.”
As Engine 1 and Engine 2 made their way through the horrendous weather conditions to get to the fire at a residence on Ninth Avenue, Pensacola Police Department Sgt. James Daniels heard the same call from dispatch while staging at Pensacola International Airport during the hurricane. Like Pensacola Fire Department, Sgt. Daniels made the decision to respond.
“We were told the same thing, that we were only responding for life or death, and it was going to be based on a hard call and a decision of the supervisors based on the conditions,” Sgt. Daniels said. “I made the call to have myself and my officer go out there…I would rather push through the weather and get to them than to not be able to help.”
The hurricane conditions presented many obstacles as PFD and PPD drove to the house fire, only able to drive about 25 mph at times due to low visibility and wind speeds.
“The wind was pushing you over, the rain was coming down sideways and the streets were flooded,” Pensacola Fire Captain Jarrod Gruber said. “Like you can imagine right in the middle of a hurricane, it was pitch black and the streets were covered in downed trees, power lines, you name it.”
Despite the dangerous conditions, Sgt. Daniels said all three PPD officers and two airport officers who were with him at the airport were eager to respond to the call.
“They literally all were ready and falling behind me, and I told them some of them had to stay,” Sgt. Daniels said. “Our C shift I’m assigned to, that group of officers and the city as a whole, we have a lot of young officers. Well you can tell they’re definitely doing this job and this career for the right reasons – and it shows there, because you have to hold them back and tell them not to go, they’re so eager to help.”
When first responders made it to the residence, flames and smoke were visible, and they were told one resident was still inside.
Firefighters were able to get the individual safely out of the home and extinguish the fire, keeping it contained in the garage where it started. Sgt. Daniels and PPD Officer Wayne Berthiaume transported the three residents to the Pensacola Bay Center shelter to take refuge from the storm.
Pensacola Fire Department and Pensacola Police Department both attributed the successful response to the great teamwork between everyone involved.
“It was definitely two city divisions coming to help out someone else,” Battalion Chief Walters said. “We couldn’t have done it without them.”
Pensacola Fire Chief Ginny Cranor said she was incredibly impressed with the response by her team, along with PPD, who all put their lives on the line to ensure the safety of others.
“I’m so proud of them,” Chief Cranor said. “Their training and preparation as firefighters – and sheer humanity – were on full display. These guys left their own families, not knowing what Sally was going to do, and saved others. It is truly inspiring.”
Pensacola Police Chief Tommi Lyter echoed Chief Cranor’s sentiments.
“I can’t emphasize enough how much I appreciate our officers and their willingness to risk their lives every day for people they’ve never met,” Chief Lyter said. “Stories like this are a testament to the dedication and selflessness of our first responders in the City of Pensacola, and I’m so proud of their dedication and willingness to make sacrifices every day to protect and serve our citizens.”
Mayor Grover Robinson agreed, also expressing his gratitude to everyone involved.
"Heroic stories like this happen every day in the City of Pensacola, but we don't always get the opportunity to hear about them or recognize those who put their lives in danger to save others," Mayor Robinson said. "I'm so proud of and thankful for the Pensacola Fire Department and Pensacola Police Department for their selfless actions during this call and many other calls like it where lives have been saved thanks to their dedication. I truly appreciate their service and commitment to keeping our city safe."