Man rescued by Chattanooga Firefighters meets his heroes, thanks - | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Man rescued by Chattanooga Firefighters meets his heroes, thanks them for saving his life

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Chattanooga Firefighters say it's not often they get to meet the families they rescue -- and hear the good news stories of their recoveries.

That's why the department wanted to share this story of a family reaching out after their loved one's life was saved in a house fire.

This comes after the man's fiancée sent a letter to them, explaining their long road to recovery and expressing their gratitude.

The fire happened on North Highland Avenue last November. The department said a seven year old boy, his father, and uncle were in the home at the time.

Two firefighters entered the burning home and rescued the little boy's uncle after he had passed out from smoke inhalation.
Willie Hayden was trying to make sure his family escaped their house safely --- but got trapped inside himself.
Hayden says there's no doubt these firefighters saved his life.

"In those instances like that, seconds count, it's not minutes count, it's seconds count," said Capt. Joey Smith.

Captain Joey Smith and Firefighter Tyler Toon remember the day they saved Hayden's life. They remember bringing him out of his burning home, and taking him to first responders, and after their job was done, they didn't expect to hear from his family again.

"It was powerful, it was something to have, because like I said most of the time, 99% of the time, you don't really hear anything back," Capt. Smith said.

Months later Hayden's fiancee wrote them a letter, updating them on his condition.

It reads in part, ""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

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 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!"

Hayden's fiancee says she wrote the letter after she found out they were awarded "Firefighters of the Year."

"They're just doing the job they chose to do, but it changes people's lives like it did, you know he has his life because of them," Abby Hubbard said.

Hayden also met the team of firefighters in person, to give them a hug, and to let them know he's alive and well.

"Just to let them know I am very, very, very greatful and in their debt for saving my life and giving me the opportunity to experience more time with my family," Hayden said.

The two firefighters say they don't want to take all of the credit for saving Hayden's life.
They say without the whole crew helping during that fire, they would not have been able to get inside and make the rescue.    

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