Michael Oates is lucky to be alive.
At Martinez-Columbia Fire Rescue’s annual meeting Monday, the Evans man was able to thank one of the many people critical to his survival after an Oct. 15 heart attack.
He hugged Lt. Jamie Champion, who, along with Firefighter Darren Woo, defibrillated Oates’ heart and administered CPR until an ambulance arrived.
“On that morning, I was cold as a mackerel. I was gone,” Oates said before handing out EMS Life Saving awards to 26 firefighters whose actions saved someone’s life, usually through CPR. “God wasn’t ready for me to go home yet. He placed angels in my path from the point that I went down to the point I walked out of the hospital a few days later. ... He placed angels right there, like Jamie Champion, in my path all the way through it.”
Oates, who was training for a half-marathon with his wife, Penny, collapsed from a heart attack while running alone on Evans-to-Locks Road. Geoff Duckley, a Cub Scout leader on a field trip with his troop, found Oates and administered CPR until firefighters arrived.
“Your praises aren’t sung nearly enough,’’ Oates said to all the firefighters. “Penny and I are eternally, eternally thankful for you and all that you do.”
The department also honored other life-saving firefighters, including Gary Thigpen and James Frazier, who shared the Firefighter of the Year award. The pair found Demetria D’Antignac collapsed and not breathing inside her New Petersburg home on Nov. 17. Her town home was on fire and it took the pair three minutes in thick smoke to find her. A third firefighter helped carry her out of the home.
D’Antignac spent time at the Joseph M. Still Burn Center at Doctors Hospital, but has recovered.
Firefighters Steve Culpepper and Mike Cummings received Distinguished Service awards for their part in a July 23, 2011 fire. The pair had been inside the smoke-filled home and warned others of hazards inside.
“They recognized the dangers and we didn’t send anybody else in and get them trapped, which is very possible in that kind of situation,” Chief Doug Cooper said.
Danny Rowland was honored as the department’s Volunteer of the Year. Rowland helps at structure fires, where volunteers are called to assist.
“He’s one of our best,” Assistant Chief James Champion said. “He’s been one of our most faithful. ... He’s always been there. He’s faithful to duty and we can always depend on him.”
Cooper also recognized Columbia County Sheriff’s deputies Wes Ward and Bobby Atma and Georgia State Patrol Trooper First Class Matthew MacDonald.
The trio were first to arrive at a June 23 wreck on Interstate 20. Joseph Banks, of Dallas, Ga., said he likely fell asleep before his truck hit a sign and caught fire.
Banks was pinned inside his truck. MacDonald cut the seat belt and the three pulled Banks free. Banks sustained second-degree burns on his legs and a broken pelvis, among other injuries, but is expected to heal.
“They were able to get the victim out,” Cooper said. “We feel that had a lot to do with saving (Banks’) life or at least preventing real bad injuries.
“I think this just goes to show that we are lucky to live in Columbia County, where public safety can work together.”