Firefighters know danger is part of the job description, but words like "hero" and "courage" are still being used to describe the actions of Salt Lake firefighters who entered a roaring house fire and rescued three children from certain death.
"They did an absolutely fabulous job," said Battalion Chief Gordon Nicholl. "They went above and beyond the call of duty to enter that inferno. It was an absolute phenomenal feat of courage in my opinion."A fourth child died in the Thursday morning fire.
Firefighters were called to 1045 N. Oakley St. at 3:07 a.m. after neighbors heard a pop
ping sound and saw flames shooting 30 to 40 feet into the night sky. Sam and Leslie Ortega and neighbors were on the front yard screaming that children still were inside the home.
Firefighters Jerry Ashbridge and Jeff Neal pushed their way into the flames, crawling on their hands and knees searching for children in the dense smoke. They found two children in a front bedroom.
"We put the fire out in the front room just enough so we could get to the back bedrooms," Ashbridge said. "We couldn't see anything. We just followed the wall down the hallway to the front bedroom.
"I was just feeling along the floor. There were still flames in the hallway. I found the first little girl inside the first room and picked her up and headed out the front door." Lt. Fred Anstee then revived the child using mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
Firefighter David Prisbrey then entered the home and found the other two children in another part of the house.
"I was terrified," Prisbrey said. "When I got through the window it was totally black, totally filled with smoke. I was afraid to go in there, but when I got in, training just took over. I did what I was trained to do. Now I am pretty emotionally spent."
To get into the home, Firefighter Mike Holley boosted Prisbrey through a window six feet off the ground. He fell to the floor, and after gaining a bit of visibility, he saw a child's legs poking from under a waterbed.
"I immediately grabbed the child. He was in full cardiac arrest when I handed him to Holley. It was Mike who initiated CPR and advanced cardiac life support," Prisbrey said.
Prisbrey then went back into the flames and found Capt. Paul McKinley trying to rescue another child from beneath a burning door. "He lifted the door off the child so I could pull him out and at that point I was able to get the child to the living room, where another firefighter helped him get him out of the house," Prisbrey said.
There were flames shooting out the windows, the doors and the roof when firefighters entered the home, Nicholl said. "It was as bad as it gets. It was just like the movie `Backdraft.' "
"Hearing them say their kids were still in there, it's something you dread," Ashbridge recalled. "But that fires you up so you do things a little quicker. When you know someone is in there all you think is to get in there as fast as you can to get them out."
For Ashbridge, it was his first such rescue. For Prisbrey, there have been others, but none this dangerous.
"I didn't do anything that three or four other guys didn't do," Prisbrey added. "We all pulled kids out."
June Ortega, 7, is being treated at the Intermountain Burn Center at the University of Utah Hospital. Christian Ortega, 13, and a nephew, 11-year-old Clayton Lawrence, were being treated at LDS Hospital where their bodies are being flushed with oxygen.
Nine-year-old Andrew Lawrence, a nephew of the parents, died of injuries received in the fire.
Sam and Leslie Ortega and 8-year-old Roseanna Ortega were being kept at LDS Hospital for observation.
The fire was brought under control by 3:30 a.m. Some 30 Salt Lake firefighters battled the blaze, which destroyed the Rose Park home. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.