Heavy equipment hauled out soaked, charred debris Wednesday morning from the basement ruins of the south Macon house where a firefighter died.
Investigators from the Macon-Bibb County Fire Department, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the homeowners insurance company began an intense probe of the blaze that killed Lt. Randy Parker and injured five other firefighters Feb. 11.
Authorities want to know how a fire that was believed to have started in a burn barrel outside near the carport eventually got into the basement.
“It’s just been completely overwhelming,” Don Coffey said as he watched the excavator rip out window frames from the brick facade of his home of nearly 30 years. “I wish I could wake up, and it would be a nightmare.”
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Coffey fought back tears when he tried to talk about Parker’s family and the support he has gotten from the firefighter’s widow, Sandie.
They met Sunday at visitation as the lieutenant lay in state at the Macon-Bibb County Government Center.
“They were trying to comfort me, and I was trying to comfort them,” Coffey said.
He commended Sandie Parker’s faith and courage after losing her husband.
“She was trying to tell me how these things happen,” he said.
Exactly how the flames spread and why the floor gave way remain a mystery to fire investigators.
The fire, which was believed to be contained when the firefighters went in, had unknowingly spread into the basement and led to the collapse that trapped Parker.
Coffey admits he kept lots of things piled up in the basement over the years.
“My biggest thing is memories,” he said. “They’ve classified me as a hoarder, but that’s who I am. I am not rich. That is all I have.”
A gaping hole just inside the front door is where Parker and other firefighters fell in.
As the fresh air fueled the flames, the fire intensified, shooting through the roof.
It took more than 30 minutes to free Parker from the debris and intense heat, but it was too late.
“I still feel so guilty,” Coffey said with tears in his eyes. “I just can’t get it out of my mind.”
Don and Kathy Coffey have lost nearly everything, except for a few vehicles.
Her 2002 Ford Taurus is nothing but a rusted shell in the driveway.
The car was paid for, but they only had liability coverage, and it won’t likely be replaced by insurance, Don Coffey said.
The intense heat blistered and burned the back of his neck when he tried to move the car away from flames in the early stages of the fire.
“Now I wish I had not messed with that and gotten the dogs out instead,” said Coffey, who lost three dogs in the fire but rescued eight others.
Kathy Coffey said there was too much commotion to think straight.
“I just hate I didn’t think about the dogs. In that state of mind, I couldn’t think,” she said.
The animals are like kids to the couple whose own children are grown.
They are staying with friends and trying to find a temporary home for them and the animals. Most of the dogs were rescued off the streets.
Friends are encouraging them to get rid of some of the animals, but Don Coffey won’t hear of it.
“I would die before I get rid of them,” he said.
He is hoping to be able to salvage some pictures and other mementoes from the house.
Investigators planned to leave the bedroom wing intact Wednesday but could not make any promises as they picked apart the roof.
Fire officials thought a preliminary report might be ready by next week.
Once the insurance claim is settled, the Coffeys hope to rebuild on the property in the Fairview Acres subdivision they love off Bloomfield Road.
He wants the home to be a “Phoenix rising from the ashes” and intends to pay tribute to the fallen firefighter in some way.
The Coffeys want to thank everyone for the outpouring of help they’ve received.
Their church, Heritage United Methodist at Bass, has collected donations.
His employer, industrial supplier Blake & Pendleton, has been wonderful, he said.
“Right now, I just don’t know what to do with myself,” said Coffey, who walked with crutches while recovering from an earlier ailment. “I’m so distraught about the fireman. That’s the main thing. ... I pray that no one ever ends up in this situation.”
To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.