VALDOSTA -- The quick reaction and courage of three people Monday evening averted a fire at Hudson-Dockett Housing Project -- and probably saved a life.

Valdosta Fire Department credited Antonio Johnson, 23, and his nephew, 15-year-old David Paige, with risking their lives to save an elderly man from his smoke-filled apartment.

Fire Chief J.D. Rice presented them with certificates of appreciation Tuesday.

The third hero, who was not present at the ceremony, was Kim Washington. Her quick thinking was equally responsible in averting the potential disaster.

According to a report by Lt. Joe Stansel, company officer Engine 3, his unit responded at 7:54 p.m. to a report of a structure fire at 807 S. Fry St. Arriving, they found Zeap Spates sitting outside his apartment, suffering from smoke inhalation. Firefighters also found a concrete block had been thrown through a window.

Fire Department personnel ventilated the apartment, and the Emergency Medical Service transported Spates to South Georgia Medical Center.

Witnesses at the scene said Washington threw the block through the window, allowing Paige to crawl into the smoke-filled apartment.

"I was scared," Paige said. "When I saw that smoke and I knew that old man was staying there -- I didn't want him to die."

Paige, entering the apartment, didn't see any red to indicate fire. He began crawling on the floor to Spate's bedroom but was unable to get him to leave. He went to the source of the smoke in the kitchen, turned off the stove and removed burning food. He unlocked the door and allowed Johnson to enter the apartment to assist in getting Spates out of his bedroom.

Johnson pulled his shirt over his face, raced to the bedroom and literally carried the confused Spates outside.

"He didn't want to come out, so I just picked him up and toted him on out," Johnson said. "That's all I actually did. I didn't know what to expect. My only concern was for him."

Stansel said in his report the actions of these individuals possibly saved the life of Spates and that their actions should be recognized.

The first police officer on the scene, Mark Burkhart, had high praise for Johnson, Paige and Washington. He especially wanted to recognize Johnson and Paige for their actions.

"Basically for two citizens that had no training at all, they did an excellent job," Burkhart said. "They did exactly what had to be done."

Valdosta Fire Marshall Capt. John Baty stressed the importance of smoke detectors to the community.

"There has not been one recorded fire death in the state of Georgia where there was a working smoke detector present," Baty said. "Smoke detectors save lives."



To contact reporter Rip Prine, please call 244-3400, ext. 237.



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