By Joel Hall
During the early morning hours of June 7, Clayton County patrol officers, Michael LaBlanc and Elgin Scott, were conducting a standard patrol in Riverdale when they saw a plume of black smoke fill the sky.
They decided to investigate the matter, and by chance, ended up being the first public safety officials on the scene of the Budget Inn Motel Fire, the worst fire in Riverdale history.
"Officer LaBlanc put in the dispatch and we jumped in," said Scott. "Everybody in the hotel was asleep. Many people didn't know why we were at their door."
LaBlanc alerted local fire departments and the two of them evacuated motel residents before other authorities arrived. Scott removed and carried one woman to safety whose hair had started to catch fire.
On Friday morning, the two officers were honored for their bravery by Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue in a ceremony at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center in Forsyth. Later that afternoon, Scott and LaBlanc were honored locally, along with hundreds of Clayton County public safety officials, emergency responders, and local military during the Hometown Heroes celebration at Southlake Mall.
The event, which Southlake Mall has sponsored for the second year in row, is the mall's way of honoring individuals who are rarely thanked for the dangerous work they do, according to the mall's general manager, Judy Pritchett.
"It is Southlake's way of saying thanks to not only members of the armed forces, but those in public safety ... those who secure our liberty and protect us on a daily basis," said Pritchett. "Typically, gratitude is not given enough to those people in that kind of field."
Pritchett said that last year's response was so great they decided to make Hometown Heroes an annual event. "Most of them are just very humble," she said. "It's almost that they don't realize how much of a role they play in our lives."
"It's nice to know that someone cares in any line of work," said Morrow City Manager John Lampl. He said the mall represents a large number of the businesses in Morrow and that the business community relies heavily on the response of public safety officials. "We appreciate them," he said.
Chiefs and superior officers of several public safety departments were present and offered remarks during the celebration, which included free barbecue provided by Ala-Miss Barbecue and South Keys Catering.
"We, in public safety, are often scrutinized and vilified for decisions that have to be made in less than a second," said Morrow Police Chief Jeff Baker. "It's good to have events like this. It should debunk the mentality of us versus them."
Major Jon Antoine, of the Clayton County Sheriff's Department, said he valued the opportunity to socialize with other public safety officials.
"Usually, when we get to see each other, it's some kind of horrible fire or murder," he said. "One of the reasons that we are able to be here is that the other public safety officials are out there doing their job."
"I think the event itself is great," said Clayton County Police Chief Jeff Turner. "It's a thankless job and we put ourselves on the line everyday. [The event] means a lot to public safety officials."
"I appreciate the gesture on a personal and professional level," said Clayton County Deputy Police Chief Greg Porter. "It's very positive for the community and the city of Morrow."
Officer LaBlanc said, while he felt the honor was unnecessary, he was grateful.
"Being in the right spot at the right time ... that's pretty much what it consisted off," said LaBlanc, speaking about his response to the Budget Inn Motel fire. "Had it been another officer, I don't think they would have done any different."