Campbell, McCrary honored with Life Saving Awards
Cpl. Jeff McCrary of the Thomasville Police Department saw the flames from two blocks away.
By the time McCrary arrived at 12 Cox Ave. in the early morning hours on Feb. 27, residents of the boarding house already were congregating in the front lawn, looking confused, bewildered and concerned for the two people still inside the burning building.
“I was told there was two people still inside, one upstairs in a fully involved fire and another downstairs,” McCrary said. “I decided to do what I could to save the downstairs victim because the upstairs victim in my opinion was beyond help at that point. When I entered the home there was heavy black and gray smoke coming down the staircase and it was even more obvious that any efforts to go upstairs probably wouldn't end well.”
Tony Campbell, a resident, also was inside.
Campbell woke up to smoke coming from the air vents in his second floor room and immediately started alerting the other residents. Six of the nine people managed to escape the flames safely, but two remained, including Campbell's neighbor, 61-year-old Richard Dallas. Campbell tried to save Dallas but the intensity of the flames proved too much to overcome.
“I saved a few lives but I wasn't able to save everyone,” said Campbell. “You can only do but so much. I tried to get the victim out but I couldn't. I couldn't do anything else for him.”
With one life left to save, McCrary and Campbell, meeting for the first time amidst heavy black smoke and intense flames, focused on the unresponsive man living on the first floor.
“My biggest concerns were a collapse or cave in of the upstairs,” McCrary said. “It's quite an old home.”
Campbell and McCrary managed to kick open the man's door and rescue him from the home just as Thomasville Fire Department arrived at the scene.
“After everybody got out, the officer and I kicked and shoved the door until it gave way,” said Campbell. “[Terry] was standing behind the door. I told him 'come one Terry, we don't have time to get nothing, lets get out of here.' I ended up putting his arm around me and we led him out the door.”
TPD on Monday night recognized Campbell and McCrary's heroics with Life Saving Awards.
“It just makes you proud,” Chief Jeff Insley said. “The fact that [McCrary] and a citizen worked together and made a difference, that's what it’s all about.”
McCrary gives all the credit to Campbell.
“Tony is the real hero here,” said McCrary. “They're recognizing me but I feel like I was just doing my job. There are a lot of officers here at Thomasville P.D. that have done far more heroic things that have gone unnoticed. There would have been far greater loss of life had Tony not got up and banged on doors to get people out. He made some real efforts to get the upstairs victim out. He definitely wasn't too concerned about his own safety, especially to go back into a burning home that he just came from.”
Campbell works with the city's street department and still is trying to make sense of what happened that night. The role of hero is taking some getting used to.
“You have people look up to you after situations like that,” Campbell said. “Little kids look up to you. Two little girls came up to me and said they saw me on TV trying to save that man. They said they were proud of me. That's good when you have little kids looking up to you and being a role model.”
Staff Writer Eliot Duke can be reached at 888-3578, or firstname.lastname@example.org.