On his last day on the job as Brownwood fire chief, Eddy Wood acknowledged that firefighters get paid to save lives.
But seven firefighters went “above and beyond” when they responded to Ten Mile Crossing the morning of May 12, when a pickup with three occupants was swept into the high, swift waters of the Pecan Bayou, Wood said in an informal ceremony Wednesday morning at the Central Fire Station.
Wood awarded the seven firefighters with lifesaving awards for their actions in rescuing a woman who spent more than seven hours in the water, cloning to the bank, after the pickup she was riding in became submerged. Another woman who was remained in the pickup did not survive. A man who was riding in the pickup managed to get out of the water and go for help.
Firefighters who received the awards were Stephen Adkins, John Cadenhead, Cody Cross, Jody Horton, Jeff Davis, Phillipe Foix and Kyle Whitley.
Foix and Adkins were unable to attend Wednesday’s ceremony. Wood, Assistant Fire Chief Darrell Johnston and Fire Marshal Buddy Preston — who has been named interim fire chief — presented the five firefighters who were present with he awards.
“This is a pretty special deal,” Wood said. “Fundamentally we get paid to save lives. That’s what we do. This will be the first time you’ve seen me give out lifesaving awards.
“There are a lot of things that we get paid to do, and we get paid to do this. But when you go above and beyond, it needs to be recognized. Everything we do from day one — the training, the accountability, equipment, all of it — puts things in line for a successful rescue like this.”
Wood recounted the incident, which began around 1:30 a.m. on Mother’s Day morning as a 2006 Nissan Frontier pickup driven by Kathy Armendarez, 40, of Brown County, approached Ten Mile Crossing on County Road 257. A Brown County man, Lynn Leonard, 29, rode in the front passenger’s seat. Armendarez’s mother, Susan Smith, 59, of Mills County, rode in a rear passenger seat.
The Pecan Bayou was running fast and high as the pickup entered the crossing and was swept downstream. After trying unsuccessfully to rescue Smith, Leonard made it out of the water and began walking. Leonard was not able to call for help until 8:30 a.m.
Firefighters responding to the scene encountered Leonard by the side of a road. Leonard told firefighters a woman was in the water and rode in a fire truck back to the scene to show firefighters where to go.
“Fire crews quickly grabbed their equipment,” Wood said. “A tag line was put in place, manned by Lieutenant Horton, Davis and Foix. They crawled down the embankment and found the victim in the water.
“She was exhausted and cold and had to be rescued from the rushing water. The victim stated she’d been in the water since 1:30 a.m.”
The Brownwood Fire Department was one of multiple agencies who responded to the incident.
An Air Evac Lifeteam helicopter landed in a nearby pasture, where the woman was placed aboard and flown to a hospital.
Other firefighters arrived and assisted in the search for the missing truck and deceased victim for four hours, Wood said. Searchers were not able to find the truck and recover the woman’s body until May 30.
“When we’re responding to an incident, do we normally put people in our fire trucks?” Wood asked. “We usually don’t. “You guys took the victim, but him in the truck and said ‘take me to where we need to be.’
“In this scenario, we actually stepped up and made a decision. That’s why we have those decision-makers out there — ‘take me where I need to be and let’s make this happen.
“They effected an excellent rescue, getting into the water, making it happen. The lives that were viable that we responded to save, were saved, and that is outstanding work all the way back to the administrative staff that supports (firefighter) operations. I appreciate what you’re doing.
“They earned this one. They absolutely earned it.”
Wood said he was “super stoked” to give out the awards on his last day on the job. “It make me proud of these guys,” Wood said.