When Shannon Valley apartments caught fire March 25, the call came in shortly after midnight.
Paramedic Mike McCart had just come off another call in the Hickory Valley area, and was talking with St. Robert Police Department officers at the Mobil gas station.
He was the supervisor for the Pulaski County Ambulance District for the night and when the call came in as a fully engulfed commercial structure fire with two people trapped inside, he did what other first responders did — headed for danger.
McCart sat down to talk with The Daily Guide about what happened that night, and how it’s an example of why a first-rate response team can be the difference between life and death in an emergency.
Daily Guide: Tell us what was happening when you arrived on scene.
McCart: When I arrived on scene, Waynesville PD was there and one of the engines had just gotten there. We had been getting reports from Com Center that they were speaking to people on cell phones and they kept telling them apartment numbers, but the apartment numbers are posted on doors in the hallway, which was full of fire, so we had no idea which apartments were which. We were trying to figure which apartment they were coming from.
DG: So how did you find what apartment the people were trapped in?
MC: We cleared everything we could clear. As I was coming out of one of the downstairs apartments, one of the officers had hollered that they found it, and they needed a ladder. So, I run over and grab the ladder off of the fire truck, run around the back with it, planted it and used the end of the ladder to bust the window out. I had a couple of firefighters down there bracing the ladder and a couple officers standing around there supporting, so I went up the ladder and one of the Waynesville Rural firefighters went up the ladder behind me.
DG: What happened?
MC: We got the young lady out first, pulled her out, got her on my shoulder and carried her down. The firefighter behind me was bracing my back, handed her off to everybody else that was there. He and I went back up the ladder had to reach in and get a hold of the male, and the smoke was real thick, you couldn’t see his flashlight, maybe about 18 inches into the room. As soon as I got a hold of his hand, I started pulling him to the window. He kind of lunged out the window, I caught him about his waist area. The firefighter braced me and helped carry him down. So we brought him down, handed him off.
They had already taken the young lady around the front over to one of the truck, got her on some oxygen and put her in the ambulance. The gentleman couldn’t even standup, so I just put him over my back in a fireman’s carry and carried him over to the ambulance. Then we just went back to work.
DG: What was going through your mind at the time? You weren’t even in firefighting gear. Wasn’t that risky?
MC: Everything we do is inherently risky, so you just weigh the odds over the risk, the benefits. You know, risk a little, save a lot. Risk a lot, you have a high chance of losing a lot. The fire hadn’t breached that room yet. When I busted that window that out, the heat wasn’t as intense, it was just the smoke. I just happened to be the guy at the end of the ladder, and I would expect anybody in our service to do the same thing.
DG: What was the key to a successful outcome in this situation?
MC: If there fire department hadn’t been on scene in a timely manner, we would have never had a ladder… Just a matter of minutes is the difference with those people from finding two victims and getting two survivors. Years ago, when I was on the fire department, that would have been a total loss due to the response time, and we would have had two fatalities in the building. The fact that our community supported the fire department and the ambulance service… to help us keep state-of-the-art equipment, hire the best personnel, all the proper training and stuff that we have, turns around and pays dividends... It was a team effort. It was having the right people with the right equipment with the right response time to make it a success that night.