Two small children were saved from a house fire May 17, thanks to fast-acting neighbors and the Tipton County Fire Chief.
Reports of a fire at Broadmeadow Place Apartments, with two children trapped inside, came in at 3:15 p.m.
Covington Police Sgt. William Nelson and officers Jonathan Lightsey and Penny Barnes were on the scene immediately and residents of Broadmeadow were trying their hardest to rescue the children.
So far, those men have been identified as Nick Bland, Quintin Weathers and Aaron Hall. Others are still being identified.
Nelson said he began running into and out of the apartment, searching for the children as best he could without protective gear.
“Every time I went in three or four times I’d have to come down and get some clean air,” he said, noting he went in with only a cloth over part of his face. “That’s when somebody told Nick (Bland) to pull his vehicle up.”
Video shows a Ford Explorer was pulled up under the second-story window. Residents climbed on top of the vehicle and broke the master bedroom window using a baseball bat, Covington Interim Fire Chief Richard Griggs said.
When Tipton County Fire Chief Jon Piercey pulled up, the baby had just been rescued through the broken window and they were still searching for her older sister.
Eschewing the fire service’s two-in, two-out policy because he was the only firefighter on the scene, Piercey went into the apartment and began searching as well.
They believed her to be in the master bedroom, but she was found in the adjacent room.
“I don’t know how, but I swear a heard a whimper or heard her trying to breathe,” he said. “That told me to keep searching.”
Piercey found the toddler’s legs and pulled her to him, then crawled out of the apartment to safety.
He remembers she was unresponsive and remembers hearing a rumble from the crowd below.
He said it was the moment of his life.
“To find out that she is actually alive and going to go home is even better.”
In a weird twist of fate, Piercey’s life was saved two years ago after having an aortic aneurysm.
“My life was saved and I got to pass it on. That’s an awesome feeling. The feeling they train you for you can never train for.”
From there, the toddler was handed off to another first responder.
Both girls were airlifted to LeBonheur where they were treated for smoke inhalation, then released earlier this week.
Nelson and Barnes were treated for smoke inhalation at Baptist Tipton.
“This is what community is all about,” Covington Mayor Justin Hanson said. “The residents literally stepping up to save other lives. It really could have been much, much different.”
Piercey said the bedroom doors were closed, which kept some of the smoke out of the bedroom.
Griggs said the fire seems to have started from unattended cooking. The incident remains under investigation and none of the victims has been officially identified.
For now, the focus is on the heroic effort by residents and first responders.
“It was a sad event but a great day,” said Piercey. “It was a big move. I don’t know if it’s ever happened that we’ve had victims pulled out who are actually alive. This is a big deal.”
Nelson gets emotional thinking about Friday’s successful rescue.
“I’ve been up here 13 years and I’ve never seen a greater response,” said Nelson. “You had Covington PD, (Tennessee) Highway Patrol, Jon Piercey, Covington Fire, Brighton Fire, Garland Fire, TCSO, MedicOne and every citizen of those apartments working together. I nearly cried when it was all said and done. We all put everything aside and worked together.”
There are already plans in the works to honor the heroes.
“What they did today saved lives,” Griggs said Friday. “I want them to know how much we appreciate them and what they’ve done. They really stepped up.”
“We just did what anybody else is supposed to do,” Weathers told WMCTV Friday. “We went in and got the kids.”