The call came in at 11:15 p.m. Thursday. The Martinez-Columbia Fire Rescue’s shift 3 headed out to a reported structure fire at Petersburg Place Town Homes on Petersburg Circle.
On the way, the team got information from dispatch that there might be a woman in the house. Battalion Chief James Burnett handed out assignments.
After breaking down the door, the firefighters were faced with a townhouse full of smoke. It was so thick, they had to crawl on the floor, following their fire hose in and out of the home. With no idea where the victim might be, the men had to feel around for her. That’s when firefighter James Frazier touched a leg.
“I got one!” he yelled back to his partner, Gary Thigpen Jr.
Suddenly, Frazier’s flashlight went out.
Their fellow firefighter, Robbie Stevens, was moving anything he could find that would hinder their way back out the front door.
The rest of the team, Mike Cummings and Steve Culpepper, were outside preparing the ladders in case anyone was upstairs.
“Everyone had an assigned task, a job that needed to be taken,” said Thigpen.
Friazier and Thigpen emerged with Demetria D’Antignac, 31, a few moments later and handed her over to the ambulance squad.
But they did not know whether D’Antignac was the only person in the house, so Frazier went back in to search upstairs. Stevens and Thigpen took the lower level and Thigpen put out the fire in the kitchen.
“There is always the potential of someone being in the house,” Thigpen, 24, said. “So we do always make that search.”
Shift 3 has been together for more than eight months. They work every third day for 24 hours. That time together has made the firefighters family. And in this case, Burnett’s ringleader ability and protective qualities would make him Dad.
“They did an awesome job,” Burnett said. “I’m proud of them.”
“I don’t see it as work,” said Thigpen. “I come to enjoy the time with them.”
That closeness pays off when residents get in a situation like what happened Thursday night. The firefighters are able to read each other.
D’Antignac’s condition had improved to serious from critical Sunday night at the Joseph M. Still Burn Center, according to hospital spokeswoman Barclay Bishop.
“It makes you feel very proud,” said Thigpen. “To know you helped someone out.”
It was after 3 a.m. Friday when shift 3 returned to the station from the fire. With four more hours left on their shift, there was plenty of time to save another life.
They are thankful they didn’t have to.