On the evening of March 13, Kingstree Fire Department volunteer firefighter Nathan Williams was the first to arrive at the house fire on Tomlinson Street. The responding fire truck was caught at the railroad track just blocks away. It was dark but Williams could see smoke billowing from the open front door. He also saw a garden hose running into the house and it was moving. He knew instantly there was someone inside and raced to find the victim in hopes he could reach him before tragedy struck. Calling out he heard a voice. It was the voice of the owner, Joshua Pressley. He was trying desperately to put out the fire with the puny stream of water.
Williams did what he was trained to do; down on all fours he continued to call to Pressley till they met. The distance was only feet from the front door but it was a lifetime for the man who was unintentionally taking in carbon monoxide and other noxious gases. Williams grabbed the father of three and carried him across the street where Pressley collapsed. At that point he would not remember anything.
Firefighters arrived as the scene was unfolding and contained the blaze. At the same time Williamsburg County EMS arrived and identified Pressley’s injuries as potentially life threatening and arranged to have him transported to a burn center in Georgia, where doctors placed him in an induced coma. He came very close to death but made a complete recovery. Once he was healthy enough, he made a point to thank EMS and the man who saved his life.
On May 7, Pressley and his family joined the fire department, Mayor Darren Tisdale and others to recognize Williams for his courage and heroic actions. In his comments Kingstree Fire Chief Tim Duke stressed that firefighters are not heroes. “At Kingstree Fire Department, we’re not hunting heroes. We just want you to do your job. It’s in our statement,” said Duke. “But there comes a time when things happen sometimes that doing your job, you become a hero. And that’s kind of what tonight is about.” Duke presented Williams with a plaque on behalf of the fire department. “This firefighter did exactly what he was trained to do. He went in and got this guy out of his house. If he had not got to him when he did, he (Pressley) might not be sitting here today.”
For Williams, the recognition came as a total surprise. “I wasn’t expecting it,” said Williams. “Like the chief said, we’re doing what we’re trained to do. So it’s kind of surprising and I feel humbled and honored by it.”
Pressley, a lifelong resident of Kingstree, said he and his late father had spent several years renovating the home that sat within earshot of Martin Luther King’s “March on the Ballot Boxes” speech. He recalled that fateful night. “A defective appliance started the fire. I was trying to save it with a water hose. They say I actually did pretty good,” said Pressley with a laugh. “I remember going into the house with the water hose and I remember spraying up and that was the last thing. Those guys are my angels.”
His wife Merrilee and their three children were on their way home. “As we were coming to our house I noticed fire trucks and ambulances. I said oh my God, no, what happened,” she said. “When I got there I saw smoke coming from the top of the house and I didn’t want to belief it.” She was taken to the ambulance where she found her husband. “He wasn’t in good shape. They rushed him to Augusta and we met him there.” Pressely was brought to tears as he addressed the department. “I didn’t even know what happened till about four or five days later when I woke up at the hospital,” said Pressley. “I know you all aren’t looking for heroes but you guys are my heroes.” He said since the accident he’s learned to be more appreciative of life. “There are a lot of things I didn’t understand until then. Material things can be replaced but my family would never have been able to be replaced had it not been for you. Thank you.”
Smoke inhalation is a leading cause of death due to fire, causing approximately 5,000 to 10,000 deaths per year in the USA alone. Fire can spread rapidly through your home, leaving you as little as one or two minutes to escape safely once the smoke alarm sounds. If you must escape through smoke, get low and go under the smoke to your exit.