Jeff Nichols, Master Firefighter, Rescuer of Six in Sunday Morning Fire

You were off duty and just happened to drive by the unreported fire?

The reason I was coming in that way, the Western Avenue exit off 75, is I had dropped my wife off first, she works at station 15 in Fountain City. I was going to work at headquarters on Summit Hill. My radio clock said 6:22 [a.m.].

How did it happen?

I noticed smoke and took a left off Western and drove down 11th. I lost the smoke and went down to the World's Fair site then back up on Clinch, then I parked at Fort Kid. I thought the fire was Fort Kid. I started going up the steps, I got closer and realized it was the two houses. I called dispatch, then I went to the first house, 402, and beat on the door—there was no one there. Then I went to the second house, 404. The shift before, we were at a fire alarm right across the street from that house. I noticed while we were staging on 11th that several college-age people were on the porch of 404 looking at all the fire trucks. When I went to the second house, I remembered all those people. I beat on the door; no one came. Something told me, "Just try the door." It was unlocked, so I just walked right in and started yelling, "Everybody out, your house is on fire." I think there were six of them, it seems like three or four came downstairs, and there were two in the living room. I shook a guy who was asleep on the couch. He wasn't moving so I basically grabbed him by the waist belt and pulled him on the floor. Then he woke up! This all took maybe a minute or two.

How long before they couldn't have gotten themselves out?

Another couple of minutes. There was already smoke in one bedroom, fire up the walls. It started on the exteriors; when I first called it in, the fire was about chest high. When Chief Morris and Engine 1 arrived, the fire had already gone up the entire height of the structure, it grew that fast.

Do you believe in coincidence?

I believe God put me at the right place at the right time.