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Men's last fire together dramatic

One firefighter was transferring. The wife of the other was expecting. Both rescued two people from a duplex Tuesday.

By LINDA GIBSON

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 6, 2001


TAMPA -- The crew at Fire Station 5 on Central Avenue threw a going-away party Monday night for firefighter Larry Glanton, who was being transferred after two years at the station.

They shared a cake and joked about how great it would be if they could top off their party with one last fire together.

At 2:40 a.m., the call for that last fire came in.

Minutes later, Capt. James Gary -- his wife due to deliver their third child at any moment -- and firefighter Bosie Solomon were sledgehammering through burglar bars even before water lines had been set up.

There were two people trapped inside a burning duplex and no time to wait.

"They were going to die if we didn't do something," Gary said Thursday.

The Station 5 crew was the first to arrive that night at a duplex on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard just east of Nebraska Avenue. Police officers told firefighters they could hear two people calling for help from inside, Solomon said.

By then, flames and heat already made going in through the doors impossible. Gary and Solomon, clad in 60 pounds of gear, ran around the back and found a window covered by burglar bars.

"I could hear someone moaning," Gary said. Even worse, the moaning grew fainter by the second.

Gary, a 20-year veteran, knew he'd be risking his life if he went in before the water lines were ready. The moans stopped.

He made a decision.

Bust out those burglar bars, he told Solomon, who was carrying the sledgehammer. With the bars and window gone an instant later, Gary climbed in and found two unconscious people, 47-year-old Theresa Jones and 52-year-old Leroy Dotson.

Solomon stood at the window shining a light inside so Gary could find his way back through the smoke. Gary called for Solomon to come inside; he couldn't lift the woman's body by himself.

By then, other firefighters had arrived. The window's sill was at neck level of the 5-foot-7 Solomon. So 6-foot-7, 290-pound Glanton grabbed Solomon by his booted feet, hoisted him up and tossed him through the window.

Gary and Solomon carried Jones out a door, which other firefighters had opened. She wasn't breathing, Gary said. She and Dotson were taken to Tampa General Hospital. They were released Thursday, but couldn't be reached for comment.

The duplex had no smoke alarm, said Capt. Bill Wade. That likely would have awakened Jones and Dotson in time for them to get out of the building. He said investigators still were looking at the possible cause of the fire.

Thursday was Glanton's last day with the Station 5 crew before moving to Station 8 near Tampa International Airport. Thursday morning, Gary's wife gave birth to a healthy girl.

Thoughts of his family had flashed through his mind as he made the decision to climb through the window, Gary said.

"I trust my crew. I knew if something happened, they'd come and get me," he said.

- Linda Gibson can be reached at (813) 226-3382 or at gibson@sptimes.com.

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