Officers save woman from fire

Published 1:33 am Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Annie Simmons did not know what to think when she found her living room filled with smoke late Friday night, but within seconds she witnessed flames erupt around the air conditioning unit close by.

“There was no one here but myself and my sister,” she said. “It just so happened I had not gone to bed because I was drying clothes. I saw all kinds of smoke and at that time I saw the flames shoot up. I was hollering out the door for someone to come help me.”

Simmons said she immediately became concerned about her sister, 86-year-old Rosanna Amos, who was bedridden and required a constant supply of oxygen via an attached tank.

“I could not pick her up and get her out of the bed,” Simmons said. “I did not know what to do, but I was not going to leave her. I told her I was just going to go with her. If she was going to burn up, then I would burn up too.”

Simmons said she was so distracted that she did not call 911 immediately, but her next-door neighbor placed the call for help at approximately 1:22 a.m.

“I did not know what do so I took my head out the door and began yelling for help,” she said. “My next door neighborhood called 911 and then began throwing buckets of water on the flames.”

Andalusia Police Department officer Steve McGowin said he and fellow officers Sgt. Roger Cender and Cody Warren heard the report of a house fire with visible flames soon after.

“Cody took off to the area of the call,” McGowin said. “Within moments after that we heard over the command frequency that there were possible occupants in the house. Cender and myself took off to the location.”

When the officers arrived on the scene they spotted Simmons inside the home, standing next to her next-door neighbor.

“We asked if anyone was in the house and she said there was someone in the bedroom,” McGowin said. “The house was filled with large amounts of smoke.

“Cody stayed in the living room and kitchen area to see if anyone was lying on the floor,” he added. “Roger went to the back bedroom and I checked the bathroom and opened up the bedroom door to the bathroom.”

McGowin said that was the point where he located Amos lying on the floor with an oxygen mask attached to her face.

“Sgt. Cender and myself entered the room and I began trying to take the oxygen equipment off of her so we could move her,” McGowin said. “Roger got a comforter off the bed and we wrapped her in that. She said she had a wheelchair and wanted to be put in it. The only chairs available were electric and the batteries were dead. Cody cleared a path for us through the living room. Roger had her by the feet and I had her by the upper body. We moved her to the front porch and placed her on a glider.”

Amos recalls the moments before the officers arrived as “terrifying.”

“I was extremely nervous,” she said. “I just wanted to get out of there and I knew that I needed someone’s help to make it.”

McGowin said the officers acted out of instinct, fearing that the fire had entered the attic and could produce more problems in a short period of time.

“We thought the fire was in the attic because of the amount of smoke in the room,” he said. “We did not know how long it had been burning. Our main concern was to get her out of the residence before the ceiling collapsed.”

Fire department personnel arrived on the scene soon after, located the source of the fire and extinguished it before serious damage occurred to the structure. Rescue personnel transported Amos to Mizell Memorial Hospital, where she was held for observation and released.

McGowin said he and the other officers did not realize just how dangerous their actions were until after the job was done.

“We were in the house for a total of maybe five minutes,” he said. “Afterwards we found out that the smoke was the actual danger. More people die from smoke inhalation than actual fire. After we got her out of the house it was a sense of elation that we were able to get her out of the house.”

Andalusia Police Chief Wilbur Williams said he could not be more pleased with the quick thinking and excellent leadership displayed by the three men.

“It is considered a heroic act in my eyes anytime that anyone puts their life in jeopardy to come to the aid of another citizen,” he said. “These gentlemen identified the sensitivity of the situation and took it upon themselves to do what needed to be done to save a woman’s life. I am extremely proud of their valor.”