Haunted by images of flames, cries for help and the hopelessness of a firefighter trapped in a burning house, colleagues are now coping the best they can with the death of Lt. Randy Parker.
Crews suffering from burns and smoke inhalation fought valiantly to save the 46-year-old firefighter, who fell into the home’s basement when a floor collapsed Wednesday night.
“He was in a very horrific environment,” said Macon-Bibb County fire Chief Marvin Riggins, who described Parker as strong, courageous, computer savvy and witty.
“I thought a lot of Randy,” an emotional Riggins said. “Randy was a great leader, always a team player. ... His faith was very strong.”
Funeral arrangements were pending Thursday.
Parker’s firefighting brethren deeply share the pain of grief and loss that spread throughout the community.
Passer-by Sandy Mathews Burney, who drove up on the fire at 2320 Fairview Drive, was so touched by what she witnessed Wednesday night that she returned Thursday.
“Just endless work, people, you know, the firemen, I guess holding their composure being that they had a man trapped inside of the house,” Mathews Burney said. “Some hurt, you know, they worked at it to the end. They didn’t give up.”
After losing two family members in a 2006 blaze, she could not tear herself away from the scene.
She brought a folding chair from her car for one of the injured men and listened as others reassured him the firefighters did all they could to try to save Parker.
Off-duty firefighters, who rushed to the scene, joined crews pulling on a rope to free Parker from the debris. Five firefighters were hospitalized.
Glum faces fit the somber mood at Parker’s Fire Station No. 7, where the flag flew at half-staff as the men gathered for breakfast Thursday morning.
“I think everybody is in a tailspin right now,” said Sgt. Travis Veronee, who worked the opposite shift from Parker but saw him regularly at shift change. “He was a really good guy, hard working.”
Investigators are still sorting out what happened, and a review of the incident will likely determine if any mistakes were made.
“They had some of the best trained guys out there,” Veronee said. “I don’t think there was anything anybody did wrong. It just happened.”
District Chief Nathaniel Hall said the impact of the tragedy will linger.
“This is just a terrible thing,” Hall said as he arrived at the scene Thursday morning. “We’re just trying to come to grips with it.”
Parker is the first firefighter to die fighting a fire in 2015 nationwide, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.
The last Macon-Bibb firefighter killed on duty was Capt. Will Rowe, who was crushed by a falling tree in Shirley Hills in 1997.
Fallen firefighters are listed on the Peace Officers Memorial on Mulberry Street.
Parker’s name will be added to the list as a lasting reminder of his sacrifice.
People are invited to keep their porch light burning in Parker’s memory.
He is survived by his wife, Sandie, and two sons, Andrew and Chandler.
Family members asked for some time to privately grieve before speaking publicly about Parker.
Parker joined the department in 1990, but Riggins really got to know him a couple years later. Parker had been severely injured when he was hit by a vehicle while running. Riggins was impressed by the young firefighter’s determination to heal.
In 2000, while still a private in the fire department, Parker’s former wife was killed in a car accident on Interstate 75 in Monroe County.
He continued to rise through the ranks.
“I remember when he first came on, and he matured up to be a great firefighter, a great leader,” Hall said.
Two years ago, Riggins tapped Parker to represent the department for United Way’s fundraising efforts.
It was a role he relished.
The fire department’s administrative assistant, Carlene Howard, said Parker was instrumental in raising money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
“He was my right-hand man for the golf tournament. He would beg for stuff,” said Howard, who called him to catch up just days ago.
“We’ll just have all our good memories of him. I know we have an angel looking down on us,” she said.
Hall said the fire department is like a family. Grief will linger.
“With God’s will, we’ll get over this,” Hall said. “We’ll hurt for a while, but we will go on, but right now, we’re going to come together.”
To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.