By Michael Davis
When Angi Ford realized that a woman was trapped, pinned into the driver's seat of burning car, she reacted.
Jumping into the passenger's seat and holding the woman's head up straight, trying to get her to breathe, the 36-year-old firefighter and paramedic could feel the flames of the other vehicle involved in the Sept. 18 crash in DeKalb County beginning to come through the back window, lapping at the back seat from the engulfed impact vehicle.
Had there been an opening on the nursing program where she wanted to go to school, the Stockbridge woman would not have been there that night on Dawson Boulevard, and might never have found what she calls the best job in the world.
"I know it sounds cheesy," said Ford, now cross-trained as a firefighter with DeKalb County, "but I went to Griffin Tech, and their nursing program had a two-year waiting list.... So, I signed up with the EMT course, and I realized I didn't want to be a nurse."
The mother of two teenage daughters, Savannah, 13, and Samantha, 16, Ford went to emergency medical technician school, instead of following nursing, and became a paramedic. And, after 12 years, she is in line to receive one of the DeKalb County Fire Department's highest awards: a Medal of Honor.
It was the decision to enroll in paramedic training that would ultimately put her where she was on the night of the two-car crash, when she and a team of firefighters and paramedics rescued the unconscious woman from the burning wreck.
"I was just doing what I think everybody else would've done," Ford said.
Fire officials say she is the first woman ever to receive the county's Medal of Honor, and only the fifth person ever.
After the merger four years ago of the DeKalb Fire and the DeKalb Rescue departments, Ford trained as a firefighter, a decision she cites as one of the best she's ever made, and despite her petite stature, operations officer Capt. Tom Cordell says she can hold her own.
"I would put Angi Ford up against anybody in our department," he said. "She more than pulls her own weight, she pulls some of the guys' (weight)."
Working 24-hour shifts with DeKalb Fire & Rescue, and pulling part-time shifts as a medic at DeKalb Medical Center leaves the single mother with little time to socialize when she's not resting.
"It's not that I'm a workaholic, I just can't sit still," she said.
Ford downplays her actions the night she jumped into the burning car, which got more and more involved in the fire.
"I knew, knew, knew our boys were right down the road," she said. "The hotter it got, the closer they got."
Ford said her first thoughts were to open the airway of the woman, who was unconscious after a drunk driver slammed into the driver's side and wound up in flames, stopped hood-to-trunk at the rear of the victim's car.
She said she struggled, though successfully, to insert a tube into the woman's airway.
"I think I was more proud of that than sitting in a burning car," she said.
Cordell said the maneuvers were not part of her training, and that Ford actually put her life in danger to save the woman.
"She performed some very invasive and complicated medical procedures with the woman sitting, trapped, in the car," he said. "People ask me if I think Angi is a hero. My definition of a hero is just ordinary people doing extraordinary things and that certainly fits Angi," he added.
Ford moved to Stockbridge only a few months ago after having grown up in Jonesboro and lived with her daughters for a while in Powder Springs. "I pulled into the driveway and knew this was my home," she said.
After a series of break-ins at her Powder Springs home, and sensing her daughters needed new surroundings, she chose a house in a quiet, modest subdivision in Stockbridge.
"Every time we see her, she's either going out the door to work or coming back home," said her neighbor William McArthur, 75, a retired skating rink operator.
McArthur's wife, Mary Jane, said having a medic close by is comforting, and sometimes comes in handy.
"We've had to call on her a time or two," said Mary Jane, 70. "It was neat having someone so close to give us a second opinion of what to do. The trick is catching her at home," she said laughing.
Ford's mother Kathy Floyd, 59 is a homemaker and her father, Robert Floyd, 63, is a retired mechanic. Her sister Bonny, 40, works for Delta Air Lines.
Ford says she's done pretty well for herself up until now, though she continues to look toward the future.
"I make pretty good money, I've got two healthy kids and I'm pretty healthy myself, so I'm pretty proud," she said.
Her sights are now turning to promotion within the department, or perhaps a job as a flight medic on a helicopter, though it's a tough gig to get. When her kids are grown, she said, she may again pursue nursing.
"But I'm talking about two totally different lives," she said.