Thanksgiving is a holiday where Americans pause to give thanks for the blessings in our lives.
The routine things in life are usually what we give those thanks for.
Park Ridge Apartments resident Cindy Williams is grateful to be alive after she was rescued just moments before a raging inferno claimed her apartment.
Williams had a premonition when she moved into that apartment.
She said to herself, “How would I ever get out of here in case of fire? There’s only one door.”
She then discounted her thoughts as “silly” thinking, “These things don’t happen to me.”
Williams said she was asleep in the 4 a.m. hour Thursday morning when she was alerted that something may be wrong.
She didn’t know at this point that she had just minutes, maybe seconds, before her life would hang in the balance.
Williams says she owes her life to God, and that she also owes her life to “Trump.”
She said, “My little puppy ‘Trump’ started nudging me, then he started barking, but a low bark, and I thought, ‘this is a weird time for you to have to go outside to the bathroom.’ I thought, ‘This is crazy.”’
She said she then heard a banging that sounded like it was coming from the side of the apartments.
“I thought, ‘what in the world is going on?’ I grabbed Trump and went to the front door. I opened it to find fire coming at me from every angle. I closed the door, not thinking clear and I thought, ‘I’m stuck in here,”’ Williams said.
It was at this point that she believes shock probably played a role in her actions.
She didn’t run around frantically like many people would when realizing they were trapped with a fire coming at them.
She didn’t call 911 or authorities, she called the man who has played the most important role in her life, her Dad, Pastor Anthony Williams.
She said, “I wasn’t panicked. I don’t know why. I guess it’s the peace of God that kept me calm. It was like the peace of God came over me. I called my Dad.”
Williams said she was very casual and said to her Dad, “There’s a fire and I’m stuck in the apartment.”
She said, he said very casually in response, “I’ll be over there in a few.”
Williams could have just been asking for a ride to the store, instead of a fire raging outside her door with only one way out.
Her Dad said he immediately said a prayer to God, for the safety of his precious daughter.
He said he felt that same peace and that she would be OK.
He rushed to the car for the two-mile drive to his daughter.
Her Dad, Pastor Williams of Grace Baptist Church in Durant, said,”I couldn’t do anything to help being two miles away, but I could pray. I immediately began praying that God would keep my daughter safe. I was praying the whole time I was driving.”
The Durant Fire Department is credited with their fast response time to the fire.
Battalion Chief Steve Kelso said, “Sometimes we have ten words on a call and that gives us ten seconds.”
Kelso was saying that instinct as a fireman and experience play a vital role in those first few decision-making minutes.
When firefighters arrived, they began putting equipment in place to extinguish the raging fire.
Residents of the apartments and onlookers were watching in suspense as they did their job.
The two-story fire made Tower 1, the Durant Fire Department’s ladder truck, a primary tool for battling that fire.
Lead Driver Royce Gaskill said, “It was an essential and the main factor in putting the fire out. It was able to come down on the top of that fire because of the sheet rock blocking the bottom and it was rough for those guys to get in there. Some of the doors were locked, too. There was a hydrant near the apartment that gave us plenty of water and that helped us.”
Residents and families in the apartment units had been evacuated and were safely away from the fire, except one.
As the fire raged, they were told that there was a woman trapped in her apartment and had no way to get to safety.
The person trapped in their apartment became the priority, as firefighters rushed to make the rescue.
Gaskill, with the ladder truck in place, climbed the 70-foot distance to the second-floor apartment no knowing what he might find.
He said, “The ladder goes up 70 feet, but with it extended sideways, we were up off the ground about 35-40 feet.”
Durant Police Officers Brandon Mitchell and Police Officer Shane Walker assisted the Durant Fire Department.
Their contribution helped provide more time for Gaskill to get to Williams and get her to safety.
He said both Durant police officers helped in numerous ways, and helped with several pieces of equipment that shaved that precious time off his job.
That time saved by the help of the officers, allowed him to reach the trapped resident much sooner than he otherwise would have.
Gaskill said he opened the window to see a woman standing there holding her dog.
He saw Cindy Williams standing there with her puppy named “Trump.”
Gaskill said, “I’m a dog owner so I knew she probably wasn’t going to come out unless the dog goes first.”
The clock was ticking and he needed to get her out of the apartment immediately.
Williams said, “He reaches in and grabs my dog and I’m going, ‘I want my dog. I want my baby.”’
Gaskill reassured her that the dog was fine and told her to come on.
She then told him she was scared of heights as the fire crept closer.
He said, “There wasn’t time to be scared of heights. I needed to get her out of there.”
After three attempts, he said he was able to get her to the ladder.
“I just basically reassured her that we would keep her safe,” he said.
Williams said, “He said, ‘I got you,’ but I still had the fear and I wasn’t going down that ladder.”
Not remembering any of this, Williams was taken far enough that Fireman Keith Cook was able to grab her and get her to safety.
She said she doesn’t remember anything from the time she was pulled out until she was safe at the ambulance.
“I do remember being scared of the ladder, then I remember being bear hugged and taken to the ambulance,” she said.
Pastor Williams said the first thing he did when he saw his daughter, safe and away from the fire, was thank God.
He said, “I pulled up and saw her by the ambulance. I was relieved, I said, ‘“Thank you Lord, thank you Lord.”’
Williams said a sore back was the extent of her injuries and is grateful she wasn’t hurt.
Gaskill said he was worried about the time element and making the rescue.
He said, “The roof had already came down and the joists were holding it. We didn’t know how long they would hold.”
Gaskill, from Kansas, says Durant is him home and his fellow firefighters are like his brothers.
He stressed the rescue was a team effort, with everyone on the team playing a vital role.
He said it was all in the line of work, but he’s happy he was able to get Williams out of the inferno, despite her fear of heights.
Williams’ apartment was a total loss with everything she owned destroyed.
She said all of her family photos, heirlooms, furniture and clothes were not salvageable.
She said, “I have some collectibles on the shelf that I may be able to salvage but what the fire didn’t get, water damage destroyed.”
There’s an effort underway to help her get back on her feet with donations of money, furniture, clothes and household essentials. The Red Cross was on the scene to help all the residents displaced by the fire.
Williams is staying with her family for the immediate future until she fully is over the traumatic event.
Kelso said about Gaskill, “He’s a humble man. He’s a good man.”
Williams said about the entire Durant Fire Department and her rescuer Gaskill, “These guys were awesome and he was the best.”
Contact Dan Pennington at (580) 634-2162 or firstname.lastname@example.org