Firefighters open up about daring rescues during massive SouthPark fire
The May 18 fire was the city’s first five-alarm blaze since one broke out at a storage center on South Tryon Street less than a year ago.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) – A week after five alarms were sounded, Charlotte firefighters gathered to talk about their actions to combat a massive fire that ultimately killed two workers and decimated an under-construction SouthPark apartment complex.
Crews were able to rescue 15 workers, including the daring rescue of a crane operator trapped 200 feet in the air by a column of smoke and fire.
A visibly emotional Capt. Jeff Bright said during a Thursday news conference that he spoke with the man for roughly 35 minutes on the radio, assuring him help was coming.
“Twenty-eight years on the job, I’ve never seen anything like that,” Bright said as he choked back tears. “To talk to him on the radio and him tell you that he’s down to his last bottle of water.”
Other firefighters used hose lines to keep the crane cool, “because we all know the dynamics of fire and what it does to metal,” according to Bright.
“Our whole time, we’re thinking that the crane is going to take significant heat and we’re gonna watch it fall,” he said.
About four firefighters climbed and got the crane operator residual air packs and protective clothing, according to Bright. The captain said that by the time crews were able to get a ladder to him, he “came down like a cat.”
Bright said he’s been in contact with the crane operator every day since the fire and that he’s doing good.
The May 18 blaze was the city’s first five-alarm fire since one broke out at a storage center on South Tryon Street less than a year ago.
Officials previously said the 2,000-degree fire, which resulted in the deaths of Demonte Sherrill and Ruben Holmes, was accidental and appeared to have been sparked by a spray insulation foam trailer fire.
“The smoke itself was definitely a petroleum-based fire,” battalion chief Tim Brown said about what he saw upon arrival.
Battalion Chief Shane Nance said he was on vacation last Thursday and ended up reporting in for duty.
“It’s said when somebody dials 911 it’s the worst day of their life. I think anybody that saw the fire can attest that was somebody’s worst day of their life,” Nance said.
Capt. Benson said it was a situation unlike any he’d previously encountered.
“I knew it had gone from bad to deadly,” he said.
One firefighter said in his 14 years on the force, it was the biggest fire he’d ever seen.
“Initially, it was just light smoke, everyday-type fire to all mayhem broke out,” he said.
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