Eric and Nicole Palmer thought it was over.
Stuck inside their second-floor apartment in the early-morning hours of March 25, the recently-wed couple could feel the smoke rising. Neither of them could see much.
They didn’t know if they would make it out.
“All I could see was black, darkness,” Eric Palmer said.
Luckily, Mike McCart was there to save them.
The Pulaski County Ambulance District paramedic was honored Monday for his heroism during the fire at the Shannon Valley Apartment Complex in Waynesville last month.
McCart said he didn’t like all the hubbub over the fact that he saved two lives that night.
“I was just doing my job,” he said. “I would hope anyone in public safety would say the same thing.”
We’d hope so, but the Pulaski County Ambulance District Board recognized McCart with a plaque and dessert after the district’s board meeting Monday night at the Laquey Ambulance Base.
The Palmers attended the ceremony, saying that they had to meet their hero.
“It’s the first thing we wanted to do,” Nicole Palmer said on an emotional night. “Im living in horror every day of my life because of that night and I just needed some closure... I just had to meet him and thank him... He’s my biggest hero.”
“We’re just very grateful that Mike was at the right place at the right time,” Eric Palmer said. “Because without him, we literally would not be standing here today.”
Then, addressing McCart and giving him a huge, tearful hug, he said, “You deserve more than just a plaque.”
For Pulaski County Ambulance District Director Gary Carmack, McCart’s rescue was selfless.
“Mike threw the ladder up there with no regard for himself,” Carmack said. “He climbed up and brought them both down to safety. In my opinion, as a paramedic and administrator, they’re here today because of Mike.”
As soon as the fire blazed that night, McCart was one of the first on the scene, along with a fire truck and a police car.
The Palmers were in their second floor apartment around the back of the complex. Their fire alarms, for whatever reason, didn’t go off.
“We had a lot of guardian angels that night,” Nicole Palmer said. “Our dog was another... our smoke alarms didn’t go off.”
As soon as the Palmers were aware what was happening, Eric, a civilian police officer on Fort Leonard Wood, did what he could with his knowledge of public safety.
“With the little bit of the training that I had, my first instinct was to throw her in the bathtub with the dog... unfortunately the dog didn’t make it,” he said tearfully. “But the last thing I remember telling her was kissing her goodbye.”
He said his instincts kicked in and he contemplated making a run for the door. But the flames were too high.
“My instincts were to open up that door and try to make an escape, but the flames were so bad and the ceiling started crashing down behind us.
“I realized it’s pretty much over for us.”
Before joining his wife and dog in the bathtub he remembered he had his duty belt on him. He flipped on the flashlight on the belt before racing to the tub.
“I knew the light was the brightest thing we had in our house,” he said.
That flashlight saved them.
“It takes everyone,” McCart said. “If the fire truck wouldn’t have been there when I got there, I wouldn’t have had a ladder. And if the cops hadn’t seen his flashlight in the window we wouldn’t have known they were there.”
McCart, it turns out, was there just in the nick of time.
The backdraft had caused the air in the room to get exceedingly hot and the building started to smolder. There were no flames— yet— in that part of the building, but as soon as the roof collapsed oxygen came in and ignited everything in the area.
“As soon as that ceiling fell, the living room went up shortly after we got them out,” McCart said. “They weren’t long for it.”
Although they still live in fear of another fire, and it will take while for things to return to normal, the Palmers count themselves lucky to get out with only a few scratches.
"We didn’t even unwrap all our wedding gifts,” Eric said. “But those are just material things. I not only almost lost my brand-new wife but I almost lost my best friend.
“If she just comes out with stitches on her elbow from the glass and I have a burn on my foot, I guess we’re pretty lucky.”