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03-09-16 Rescued Fire Victim Meets His Heroes

They received the Firefighter of the Year award for their efforts.

Mr. Hayden recently visited his rescuers at Station 5 on Willow Street to thank them personally. His fiancé, Abby Hubbard, also sent the fire department a letter, offering an account of what happened inside the house on November 14th. Here's her letter:

"The night the fire broke out, Nina, our pit bull -- our baby that always sleeps with us -- attempted to wake Willie up and he dismissed her. She then went into Jamari's bedroom. Jamari is our seven year old nephew. Nina jumped on him and woke him up. Jamari realized the house was filled with smoke and woke his uncle up. The front of the house was engulfed in flames, so Willie did all he could to alert Corey, his brother, and wake him up as he sleeps in the front of the house.

Once everyone was awake, they went to the back of the house to exit out of Willie's window. Corey and Jamari were able to get out and Willie turned around to get Nina to safety, and then he collapsed. At that point he had taken in too much smoke. That's where you guys came in and rescued him.

Willie was flown to the burn unit at WellStar Cobb Hospital in Austell, Georgia. I was at work and remember getting the call from his parents in Texas. We all rushed to be there with him and it was the longest drive of my life as none of us really knew what condition he was in how badly he was burned. Once I arrived a nurse greeted me and helped me put on the sterile suits we all had to wear to go in the room with him. She told us Willie had been burned over 21% of his body, all upper body. He was on a ventilator as he had suffered the "worst inhalation injury they had ever seen."

They told us it would be a minimum of 14 days before they even attempted to wake him up, and there was a great probability that he would require round the clock long-term care and rehab. The staff at the burn unit is the best we had ever met. They truly treated us like family and there was this most amazing chaplain. They prayed with us, comforted us, really have us hope, while still giving us the facts. Sadly the second night Willie was on life support his mother died of a heart attack. How terrible, now when he wakes up we had to tell him his beloved dog – who he tried to save -- died, but now his mother, his MOMMA, had passed away as well.

On day five they took him off sedation. His stepmother and I were in the room. I remember just watching, praying, hoping and wishing. After a few long moments, he began to breathe on his own. It was a rattled wheezy, awful sound, yet at the same time the most beautiful sound we'd ever heard. The first moments were iffy. Of course, he was very disoriented, and we feared the worst. Was he blind, brain damaged? It was too soon to tell. Several hours later he just miraculously turned a corner. He recognized us, attempted to talk to us, and even ate ice cream. He appeared for the most part fine, although it took him a day or two to really grasp what had happened. He was burned terribly from his fingers all the way to his shoulders, so he had no use of his hands. His head was badly burned, but he dealt with it all very gracefully.

The day of his mother's service he went home, he insisted upon it! We had to go back to Georgia several times for surgeries, to change his bandages, etc. But within a month he was using his hands, and being pretty much self-sufficient.

The moral of the story is he could have and should have died that night, but thanks to you guys he didn't. He could have remained in the hospital for months, but he didn't. He could have been blind and brain damaged, but he wasn't. I saw real miracles take place in that hospital and my faith has forever been renewed. We will forever appreciate and respect you all for the work that you do. I've been in that house. I know how hard it must have been to get him out, but you did, not knowing him, just because it's what you chose to do! We are forever thankful for you all; you are Willie's guardian angels, as well as the doctors and nurses at WellStar Cobb. We remember you all in our prayers each day and we always will!! Thank you!"

When Mr. Hayden visited his rescuers at Station 5, he didn't tell anyone because he just wanted to meet the firefighters who saved him, without having a big audience. He also wanted a photo. That's Captain Joey Smith (left) and Firefighter Tyler Toon with their arms around Willie. Of course, other firefighters helped with Willie's rescue too. Also in the photo are, from left to right, FFS Tim Freire, FFS Bob McBryar, Lt. Alex Cole and FFE Ben Bradley.

Note to Media: Since that reunion, Mr. Hayden and his fiancé say they would be happy to tell you their story. Let us know if you're interested and we'll get you connected.


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