NINETY SIX – Nov. 29, 2012, was just another day in the life of a volunteer firefighter for Tony Gambrell, fire chief for Hwy. 34 Department. He and his son were working on one of the fire trucks when the alarm rang out; there was a structure fire at a home on Ninety Six Highway and a local resident needed help.
When his station was alerted to the fire, Gambrell hesitated before leaving the station. Gambrell was one of the first firefighters on the scene. Instinctively, Gambrell went to check the front door.
“You hear a lot of times that people in fires make it to the door,” Gambrell said. “They make it to the door and can’t get out. So I just wanted to check and make sure no one was at the door.”
When Gambrell opened the door, he said the smoke was bad, but he could see down low near the floor. That’s when he saw the feet of a woman he had known since he was a child. 80-year-old Marie Jackson lay in the floor of her hallway with her feet protruding into the living room.
Gambrell immediately sprang into action. Knowing time was of the essence, Gambrell ran into the house without donning any of the protective gear firefighters normally put on before entering a fire. He ran inside and started pulling Jackson toward the front door.
“When I got there, I could hear her breathing,” Gambrell said. “I knew she was alive, but she was unconscious. So I started dragging her to the door.”
Gambrell dragged Jackson a number of feet to the door, where two other firefighters helped him get her to the porch and eventually into the yard. EMS personnel arrived and began treating Jackson for smoke inhalation and burns. She was eventually transported to Self Regional Medical Center and then to the Augusta Burn Center, some time later, to Regency Hospital in Greenville, where she died from unrelated health issues.
Gambrell continued assisting his fellow firefighters in fighting the fire that continued to consume the home. It was then that other firefighters noticed Gambrell coughing and having difficulty breathing. Enough firefighters had arrived at the scene to allow Gambrell to take a break and get some oxygen. He spent nearly 30 minutes on oxygen before EMS evaluated and released him.
For Gambrell, it was another day at the office, much like the two Greenwood police officers who performed CPR and saved a man’s life after he had been shot. That’s how emergency personnel think. They are doing a job.
Greenwood County Council chairman Mark Allison said that he will be beginning the process of having the council issue a proclamation recognizing Gambrell’s service to Greenwood County and specifically his life-saving act in November.
Gambrell has been at the Hwy. 34 Volunteer Fire Department since the original charter was signed in 1980. He worked his way up the ladder and now serves as fire chief for the department.