Firefighter honored for bravery with award

Photo by Tori Boone

Photo by Tori Boone

COVINGTON -- One of Newton County's finest firefighters was honored for bravery at a brief ceremony among his peers Thursday afternoon.

Newton County Fire Service Firefighter Paul Douglas received the 2009 Liberty Mutual Firemark Award from agent Chris Greene, making him only the second firefighter in Georgia to achieve the recognition, which honors the valor and selfless spirit of firefighters who take the ultimate risk to keep the community safe.

NCFS Chief Mike Satterfield said when he heard about the award program through Liberty Mutual agent Chris Greene, he immediately thought of Douglas' efforts to save Charles Rainwater Sr., a wheelchair-bound 72-year-old man, when fire engulfed his home in September.

While still awaiting backup from other firefighters, Douglas entered the burning home alone and pulled the man to safety. The injured man suffered burns over 70 percent of his body and was taken to Grady Memorial Hospital's burn unit, where he lived for several weeks before succumbing to his injuries.

"Timing is everything," Satterfield said, noting that firefighters with Engine 3 were already in the truck and dressed in turnout gear enabling Douglas and engineer Thomas Robinson to arrive at the scene of the fire in less than three minutes. "We've singled out Paul, but again it's being at the right place at the right time. Paul didn't mean to do this and any of our firefighters would have done exactly the same thing. I think Paul would say that also.

"With that said, we appreciate his efforts of going in by himself. As you know with the staffing we have and many fire departments have because of the economy, there are going to be situations more often where we are put in a position where we usually have someone to help us, but now we're doing some things by ourselves and sometimes it's very dangerous. We appreciate him doing that and giving this person an opportunity to survive and live another day."

The fire at Rainwater's home on Ga. Highway 36, near the intersection with Ga. Highway 212, has been determined to have been deliberately set by the victim. He lived at the residence with his wife, who had left the evening of Sept. 8 to go to the grocery store. The fire began around 7 p.m., after she left.

Douglas said he appreciated the award, but he really wasn't alone in saving the man.

"Engineer (Thomas) Robinson was right there at the door telling me, 'Don't go in too far Paul ...' I wasn't by myself. I had my radio and I could hear all these guys coming and when you know you've got the whole fire department coming, you don't feel like you're by yourself. (Brian) Sanders helped me finish pulling the guy out. I'm just glad we could be there and do what we did," Douglas said.

Douglas has been with NCFS for approximately 18 months but is a 26-year veteran of the East Point Fire Department.

Douglas was nominated for the award by Deputy Chief of Operations Kevin O'Brien, who stated: "Firefighter Douglas showed true courage and determination by risking his life by making entry into a volatile environment alone to search for this victim. Firefighter Douglas' selfless actions placed his life in danger; however, his quick actions also gave this patient a chance of surviving this incident. ... All personnel on the scene performed exceptionally well and went above and beyond the call of duty. However, firefighter Douglas' actions stood out above the rest. His actions speak volumes of his character and the character of the men and women we have working with us in Newton County."

Douglas will now be considered for Liberty Mutual's national award. Two winners will receive an all-expenses-paid trip to the national awards ceremony in Florida, which takes place at the company's "Where's the fire?" exhibit at INNOVENTIONS at Epcot at the Walt Disney World Resort. Those winners will also receive a $10,000 grant for their fire departments.