A routine day on the job over the summer changed in a heartbeat for a Florida co-op crew, now being honored as heroes.
Journeymen linemen Bruce Baird and Alan Bissell were working on an underground cable in Hudson along with apprentice linemen Tyson Libengood and Michael Farmer. Then the screaming began.
“We heard, ‘Help! Fire!’ from a distance. And right across the street we noticed there was a mobile home blazing,” said Baird, a 14-year veteran at Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative.
“Alan and I ran over there. I went on one side of the trailer and he went on the other,” said Baird.
Bissell found an elderly man who’d managed to escape but was lying right outside the burning home, his hair singed.
Both linemen were worried there might be others inside, but the man said he’d been home alone, and Bissell helped him to safety. The man was also concerned about his car, so Bissell got the keys from his pocket and moved it.
“It’s all a blur to me,” said Bissell, who’s been with Dade City-based Withlacoochee 15 years. “I just remember running over there and hoping no one was inside because there weren’t many ways in, and I felt like I was going in no matter what.”
Never mind that they didn’t have firefighters’ equipment.
“If someone was in there, me and Bruce were going in,” said Bissell. “There was no doubt in my mind.”
Weren’t these two family men concerned about their own safety?
“Not at that point. No. When you hear somebody begging for help that’s the last thing I would want to think about,” said Baird. “If it was our grandfather we’d want somebody to do the same for us.”
“The adrenalin kicked in,” added Bissell.
For their actions that August day, Bissell and Baird were honored by the Pasco County Fire Rescue Department. When they arrived for the Sept. 27 ceremony they sadly learned that despite their efforts, the man later died from an infection.
Still, there’s no question that they’re heroes—which is no surprise to David Lambert, Withlacoochee’s manager of member relations.
“That just goes to the testament of the quality of people we have every day in co-ops across the country,” said Lambert. “They just really care about the community.”