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Rock Hill firefighter's story: 1 life saved, 9 lives mourned

Rock Hill firefighter Anthony Baker works Tuesday on a vent saw at Rock Hill Fire Station No. 1 on Elizabeth Lane. The saw is a modified chain saw

used to cut through a roof to vent a fire. Baker was one of 28 Rock Hill

firefighters who went to Charleston last week after the deaths of nine

firefighters there.
Rock Hill firefighter Anthony Baker works Tuesday on a vent saw at Rock Hill Fire Station No. 1 on Elizabeth Lane. The saw is a modified chain saw used to cut through a roof to vent a fire. Baker was one of 28 Rock Hill firefighters who went to Charleston last week after the deaths of nine firefighters there.

When Anthony Baker went to Charleston on Friday, then sat through a memorial service for nine firefighters just like him, he didn't talk about how he carried a 14-year-old boy from a burning house on Columbia Avenue five years ago next week.

He didn't bring it up when he and the 27 other Rock Hill firefighters who went Friday were thanked by strangers. Baker said his mind was only on nine men who did what he did five years ago. Try to save people.

"I did my job then, I would do it again today," Baker said Tuesday. He was at work on "C" shift.

Baker was and is, so humble about that 5-year-old fire, "He didn't even tell his girlfriend about it when he got home that day," said Capt. Trey Hovis, the man in charge of fighting that fire who ordered Baker and others inside.

"We knew someone was in that back bedroom, so I sent everybody in I possibly could," Hovis said.

Some men fought fire from the outside, some went inside to fight the fire and find the kid. That fire was not like TV or a movie. It was dark, around 4:30 in the morning. The smoke was so thick the guys inside couldn't see each other or anything else.

One of those who helped Baker carry the boy outside was Bill Haigler. Haigler now works as a firefighter in Charleston, where the nine men died. Haigler wasn't working at the Charleston fire when the men died, Baker said, but arrived later.

That 14-year-old kid saved five years ago was named Dustin White. He died about a month later.

Harold Blackwell remembers it all because he is Dustin's grandfather. He went to meet Baker once and thanked him. The Charleston fire reminded him about the bravery of all the men that night, especially Baker.

"They had to hose him because he went through the fire when he carried my grandson out," Blackwell said. "I'll always appreciate what he did for my grandson with all my heart."

In the fire service, you advance by going headfirst into burning buildings. The fire department is one place where you can go from the lowest rank to the top. Actually, you have to. Baker, in his second year as a firefighter five years ago, is now an engineer. The chief, Mike Blackmon, started as a grunt 30 years ago. The battalion chiefs and captains all started at the bottom.

Steve Rogers, the battalion chief on Baker's current shift, said Tuesday, "It could have been any of the men sent in that day five years ago, or today, or tomorrow."

On Friday, a captain named Herbie Lowery was on his motorcycle, stopped at a red light on the way home from Charleston. He was wearing his uniform. Some guy in a pickup truck rolled down the window and said, "Thanks for coming down, and thanks for what you guys do every day."

Lowery looks like a bar bouncer or a burly pirate. But that day he was emotional and some stranger thanked him at an intersection and he again was reminded why he would drive back to Rock Hill for his Saturday 24-hour shift.

Today in Rock Hill, like all of the 365 days of this year, as many as 32 of the city's 96 firefighters will be at work. In five stations, a third of the department will start at 8 a.m. and work 24 hours. On Thursday, the second group works; on Friday, the rest are on shift.

At 8 a.m. today, Baker, Rogers, Hovis, Lowery, Greg Norton, Kell Benson and Bobby Mobley and many more will go off shift.

Nobody on the shift will call Baker a hero even if he is one again. They might joke about anybody wanting to do a story about him and all of them, really, because these are men who run from cameras and into chaos.

It is the same for all 96 men and women in the department. Any one could be a hero, or dead, any time after the alarm goes off.

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