CHARLOTTE — Firefighters with Charlotte Fire, though they would never call themselves heroes, risked their lives to save 15 people from a fire in SouthPark last week.
On Thursday morning, they were emotional as they shared how they tried as hard as they could to rescue victims Ruben Holmes and Demonte Sherrill.
A week has passed since the deadly fire destroyed an apartment building that was under construction in SouthPark. The flames and smoke began around 9 a.m. on May 18 and filled one of Charlotte’s liveliest neighborhoods.
Charlotte Fire later confirmed the five-alarm blaze began accidentally when a spray insulation foam trailer on the ground floor bust into flames.
On Thursday, in the midst of the stoic faces of the members of the Charlotte Fire Department, there were tears, hugs, and true emotion.
“You don’t get the ability to talk to the guy you helped save,” Capt. Jeff Bright with Rescue 10 said.
Charlotte Fire Station 16 firefighters described the blaze as something they’d never seen before. They said the flames had an audible roar.
Bright described the moments we watched from the sky — a crane operator stuck several stories into the air. Bright stayed on the radio with him while the fire and smoke closed in.
“I spoke on the radio with him for 35 minutes, ensuring him we would come get him,” Bright said.
“To talk to him on the radio and him tell you he’s down to his last bottle of water… 28 years on the job, I have never seen anything like that,” he added.
Firefighters climbed 160 feet up the crane to rescue the operator. The climb was so tight, they couldn’t take all their gear.
“Capt. Bright said, ‘Murph it’s time to climb,’ so up we went,” firefighter Kevin Murphy said.
Murphy said he never questioned going up, especially with the crew he had.
“Everyone at Station 10, I trust my life with,” he said. “So when we go into situations that other people may not want to do, if I’m with these guys, I got no concerns.”
(PHOTOS: Massive fire breaks out in SouthPark area of Charlotte)
There were 15 other people rescued that day.
Ladder 16 crew members entered the building on the third floor. They could feel the heat rising from the quick-moving fire, and they said they did all they could before the flames became too much. They ended up jumping to safety.
“I knew that my life was in danger,” firefighters said. “And I had to jump on a ladder, revert back to my train and slide down, and thankfully Cope was at the bottom.”
There were two mayday calls that day, meaning the fire crews themselves needed rescuing.
“We push ourselves as far as we physically can in what the gear will allow, because we care,” they said. “And I don’t want that to ever get lost.”
The loss of two men is something each firefighter will likely carry with them. They said each call is taken personally, and that’s why every life means so much.
“We put it out on the line every day, and we will do anything in our power to help save anyone. But when you communicate and talk to a gentleman for 35 minutes on the radio, it means a lot.
“So to say what can the community do — just keep us in our thoughts and prayers. We are here every day doing this. Fortunately, we all made it home that night.”
Bright said the crane operator is doing as well as someone can do after the events of last week.
(WATCH BELOW: No one hurt after early morning fire in Granite Quarry, chief says)
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