MOORESBORO, N.C. (WSPA) – First responders from across the area gathered on April 1 in Mooresboro, North Carolina to honor bravery.
It was held at the Cliffside Fire Department months after its crews, and firefighters from multiple other agencies responded to a house fire early in the morning of Christmas Eve 2022.
The call came in at 5:47 a.m. on a morning when bitter cold weather was present in Western North Carolina.
Temperatures were in the single digits.
The Cliffside Fire Department reports, with wind gusts of 36mph, the wind chill was six degrees below zero.
“The temperatures were extremely brutal. Everything was freezing up on us,” according to Assistant Chief John Splawn. “Just the overspray from the hoses while fighting a fire will freeze to your face is how cold it is out there.”
Two people were inside the home when the fire started.
A woman in her 80s was able to get out, but her husband, in his early 90s, was still inside.
Assistant Chief Splawn decided he would go into the burning house to find him.
“I didn’t have any backup at the time. Firefighter (Austin) Brown was coming right behind me, and he was getting dressed as I made the decision to go in, ” Splawn told 7NEWS. “I thought we had a situation, where maybe I could get in, get him in time and then get out before the fire caught up with us.”
Visibility was limited inside the home, but with time running out, the firefighters saw something.
“I just happened to spot his feet and as we’re trying to assess and start to bring him out the room starts to light off around us, so I knew we were short on time.”
Firefighters Splawn and Austin were able to get the man out, but he sadly succumbed to his injuries later.
His wife and some family members attended the April 1 ceremony to speak to the first responders and thank them in person.
Austin has 24 years of experience as a firefighter while Brown has been with Cliffside Fire Department for eight years.
Austin can recall when Brown was 3 years old.
“I trust him with my life. I trained him. I’ve seen him come up. I’ve seen him turn into a great firefighter and if I was going to have anybody with me that night, it would be Austin.”
The agencies involved in responding to this fire according to the Cliffside Fire Department were Sandy Mush Fire Department, SDO Fire Department, Ellenboro Fire Department, Regional One Air Medical Team, Cherokee Creek Fire Department, Rutherford County Communications Center, Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office, Rutherford County Fire Marshal’s Office & Emergency Management, Rutherford County EMS, North Carolina Department of Transportation and Duke Energy.