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Blaze hurtles boy into heroics

The 13-year-old bundles his little nephew into a towel, spiriting him to safety.

Published November 3, 2006


BRANDON — Nelson Brinker woke to the door flying open and the outline of his sister and the bits of sentences that together meant something was wrong.

The 13-year-old hopped to his feet in pajama pants and a T-shirt and, sometime about 1:20 a.m. on Friday, inside No. 608 at the Indigo Point Apartments, he heard words that could not be mistaken.


Get the kids.

Get out.

Nelson scooped up his 2-year-old nephew, Marcus, draped a wet towel over the toddler’s head and ran.

The boy who keeps his Bible on his vanity next to his football trophy saw flames consuming a couch inside No. 604 as he descended the stairs with his mother and sister and two little nephews.

Outside, the crisis came into view.

Smoke rolled through the breezeway between buildings, and flames reached the roof. Nelson’s neighbors, some of them in nightgowns, streamed toward the parking lot.

Nelson knocked on doors as he ran. He deposited Marcus in his mother’s car, then grabbed the arm of a gasping elderly lady and led her across the lot.

A few men darted back into the smoke to pound on doors and wake residents. Some neighbors, not knowing where the fire was, passed their children from a second-story balcony to people below.

“It was like something out of a movie,” said Nelson’s mother, Marian Brinker. “The 75-year-old — Mr. Roberts — he jumped off the balcony and landed in the bushes, and he got up and dusted himself off like he was 25 years old.”

When firefighters arrived, they searched apartments to make sure everyone was outside. Then they soaked the building.

Nelson and his family watched from the car. The boy tried to keep his nephews distracted. Little Marcus said he didn’t like firetrucks anymore.

In all, the three-alarm blaze drew 16 fire rescue units and 60 firefighters. They had the fire under control in an hour and a half. Three apartments were damaged by fire and three others were wrecked by smoke and water. The Red

Cross relocated five families to a nearby Best Western.

When the sun came up, Nelson and his mother came back to survey the damage and get the baby his asthma medicine from under the bathroom sink.

“It’s just a blessing,” Marian Brinker said, “that no one got hurt.”

“It could have been tragic,” said Hillsborough Fire Rescue spokesman Bill Watson. “The noteworthy thing is a lot of neighbors helped the others out in time.”

No one was injured. Heroes were made.

A big-eyed boy stepped in front of some TV cameras and told them what he did, pulling on his shirttail the whole time.

Ben Montgomery can be reached at or (813) 661-2443.

[Last modified November 3, 2006, 22:27:01]

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