By Kathy Jefcoats
RIVERDALE — A veteran firefighter lauded as a hero for saving a trapped girl from a raging apartment fire instead credits "angels" for the rescue.
Capt. Terry Page responded with other personnel about 9:33 p.m., June 14, to Laurel Park Apartments on Ga. 85 in Riverdale. Officials learned from 911 dispatchers that an 11-year-old girl was trapped inside the blazing unit. The scared girl had taken refuge from the flames inside a closet where her muffled screams couldn't be heard, said Capt. Walter Barber.
Page confirmed to all incoming units that the blaze was “a working fire involving one unit in a two-story multi-family dwelling," said Barber. Page said he encountered chaos upon his arrival.
“It was like a TV show," he said. "People were everywhere trying to get her to come to the window. From what I saw, I didn’t know where she was or if she was even in there, but I knew if she was she couldn’t get out on her own so I grabbed my pack and went in to get her.”
Engine 4 was the first fire truck to making it to the scene not knowing that Page had entered the apartment, said Barber. "When they got there, Engine 4’s crew surveyed the structure, devised a plan of attack, deployed fire hose and made sure all the neighbors were out of harm’s way," he said.
Sgt. Jeff Greene with Engine 4 said when they arrived, people were running around the building looking for any signs of life from the girl or Page.
"No one had received word from him since his initial radio report," said Greene.
As his crew put on their air masks and prepared to enter, Greene looked into the doorway and saw that the kitchen was fully-engulfed in flames. They were spreading to the living room, blocking the hallway leading to the bedrooms, he said.
Suddenly, through a wall of smoke and flames, witnesses saw Page walking out of the apartment, carrying the limp, motionless child in his arms, said Barber.
"Within seconds of being pulled from the deadly smoke and flames, the little girl began to cough and move around," he said. "Simultaneously, crews entered the structure, searched for other victims and extinguished the fire, saving neighboring apartments from destruction, as well as the family’s pregnant dog that had been hiding."
With no time to wait for backup, without hesitation and at great risk to his own life, Page donned his air pack and went in to save the helpless child alone, said Barber.
"The 25-year veteran gave no thought of the injuries he knew he could sustain," he said. "His only concern was for the life of the trapped girl that he saved, an act he recalls with grace and humility."
Page brushed off the accolades.
“Everybody’s giving praise to the wrong guy," he said. "There were angels over there."
Once inside the inferno, Page lost his radio and only means of communicating with Engine 4's crew.
“Going in I knew who was coming in behind me and I knew if something happened they’d come in to get me," he said. "But once I lost my radio and had no way to communicate — I just went right back to my training. I scooped her up, found a wall and made my way back to the bedroom door."
Page said the crew responded as it should have.
“Once we got outside, she started to come around and the guys didn’t miss a beat," he said. "Everybody did what they were supposed to do. They put out the fire, made sure everybody was safe, got her to the hospital and even got the dogs out."
In almost 25 years of service, Page has pulled more than too many lifeless victims from fires for which nothing could be done, said Barber.
"This was the first time all went as desired," he said. "Perhaps though, what makes this even more of a success than her waking up outside, was what happened his following shift."
Barber said Page and Engine 4's crew returned to the apartment to survey the damage and gather lessons to be learned from the scene.
"While there, neighbors pointed out the family of the young girl and they were able to meet under sunnier skies," said Barber. "The girl was happy and doing well."
Barber said the girl cannot be identified under federal patient privacy laws.