Houston & Peach

Warner Robins firefighters receive Valor Award for saving man from burning house

WARNER ROBINS -- Rookie firefighter Taylor Howell woke up early the morning of May 27. His adrenaline was pumping as he tried to get dressed quickly, half asleep.

It was 5:47 a.m., and Warner Robins Fire Station 3 -- including Howell, engineer Randy Willis and Lt. Wayne Nelson -- had been dispatched to a home fire on Arrowhead Trail. As they approached the scene, Nelson saw a glow through the trees. Flames were coming out of two windows on the side of the house.

The firefighters thought the house might be empty. No one had answered the door when a passer-by knocked before calling in the fire, and there were no cars in the driveway.

But someone was inside. And on Monday four firefighters received Valor Awards for their heroic actions that early morning.

Once they opened the door, “I heard Lt. Nelson say, ‘We’ve got a victim in here,’ ’’ Willis recalled.

Howell went inside, and Willis helped him carry 56-year-old James Gindele, unconscious, from the house.

“He was breathing shallow,” Nelson said.

Lt. Larry Warren and Station Five arrived on the scene. Willis was trying to revive Gindele when Warren, a paramedic, took over so Willis could get to the truck.

Warren said Gindele “wasn’t breathing very well” but after a couple minutes of assisting Gindele’s breathing, he woke up.

“He was very confused of course, but he woke up and so we didn’t have to breathe for him again,” Warren. said “So we just put an oxygen mask on him.”

When the paramedics arrived, Warren turned Gindele over to them. Willis said Gindele was flown to an Augusta hospital and came home the next day.

“A few more minutes, and he probably wouldn’t have made it,” Willis said.

All four firefighters insisted they were just doing their job.

“Any fireman in the state, presented the same problem, would have done the same thing,” said Warren, who has been on the force for a little over 18 years. Nelson and Willis have been on the force for almost 26 years. This was Howell’s first major fire.

Gindele said he doesn’t remember much from the fire, and he hasn’t seen the firefighters since they saved him. But if he did, he said he would want to say, “Thank you very much for saving my skin. I really appreciate it.”

The four firefighters were given Valor Awards for their actions at the Warner Robins City Council meeting Monday night. Valor Awards are not awarded very often.

The last Valor Award given in Warner Robins was in 2008, after a firefighter revived a man struck by lightning.

The Valor Award is given to firefighters who perform “heroic, lifesaving action,” said Jennifer Powell, executive assistant for the Warner Robins Fire Department.

The fire chief can decide to reward those firefighters who helped save someone’s life. Warner Robins fire Chief Robert Singletary told Mayor Chuck Shaheen about the four firefighters, and they decided to present the Valor Award to them at the City Council meeting.

The firefighters also are nominated for a statewide award from the Georgia State Firefighters Association.

Although the firefighters said they were just doing their job, and that any other firefighter would do the same thing, they are honored to be recognized.

“We’re all honored,” said Nelson. “You do this job; you don’t do it for the accolades. You do it because you want to make a difference, but it’s nice to be recognized for doing your job.”

This will be Nelson’s second Valor Award. He received one in 2005 for saving another person from a burning house.

“It’s just a big team effort,” Warren said about the May 27 fire. “There’s no individual award that you can be given. Everybody had to do their part.”

To contact writer Emily Farlow, call 744-4225.