GFR firefighters recall their night of valor
Published: Monday, March 25, 2013 at 2:28 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, March 25, 2013 at 2:28 p.m.
It was a bizarre scene, even to experienced rescuers.
Gainesville Fire Rescue firefighter John Dowling remembers doors blown off their hinges, exploded sprinkler heads and intense gasoline fumes.
His partner on the call, Lt. Mike Tringali, remembers the call that led to them being dispatched to the scene. The caller described a “fireball” coming out of an apartment.
Given that it was 2:30 in the morning and that the building was a residence, the two figured there was a good chance somebody was still in there, but they couldn't know for sure.
As they searched the building, where in some places the walls and roof no longer touched, things started to make more sense. The two came across a door with a couch wedged behind it. Gasoline cans littered about an apartment.
They finally reached a bathroom where they found a severely burned and unconscious 57-year-old man sitting fully clothed in a bathtub filled with 12 to 15 gallons of gasoline.
There was a lit candle next to the bathtub.
To save the man, who police later said had tried to commit suicide, the two had to get in the tub and lift him out - covering themselves in fuel.
It was only when Tringali and Dowling were walking away from the fire at Gateway at Glades, 3415 SW 39th Blvd., that they realized how lucky they were to be going home to their families that day.
The two firefighters were honored for their actions on June 4, 2012 with Medals of Valor at the Gainesville Fire Rescue awards ceremony last Thursday - an award that has been give out only three other times, according to Gainesville Fire Rescue District Chief Jeff Lane.
Lane was the incident commander for the call and the person who nominated Tringali and Dowling for the award.
“Basically, to be eligible for the medal of valor it takes an action that requires extreme personal danger,” Lane said. “They really went above and beyond the call of duty.”
Lane said there was a large possibility another explosion could have occurred when the two made the decision to go in and find anyone inside.
Tringali and Dowling feel honored but remain humble. Their actions, they both said, are just a part of their job.
“That could have been any of the firetrucks and any other crew would have done the same,” Dowling said.
“It's the greatest job I can think of but sometimes the most taxing,” Tringali said.
At Station 2 of the Gainesville Fire Rescue, where the two received the call, the camaraderie and light mood is infectious. They joke and poke fun at one another like a family would - until there is a call. Then, they seamlessly and swiftly transition into all business.
The tremendous amount of respect the men all hold for one another is evident, medals and recognition aside.
Other notable awards presented at the ceremony included GFR Lt. Parnell Jones who received the Donald J. King Mentorship Award, Andrew Cone for the Meritorious Service Award, Paramedic/Firefighter Andrew Marsh for the Medical Director's Award for EMS Excellence, and Cpl. Gary Henagan for the Chief's Excellence Award.
Tringali has been with GFR for more than 10 years and Dowling for two. They received a standing ovation from the crowd.
Tringali said at times he does wonder, “Do I deserve this? Any lieutenant or firefighter would have done it, but it truly is an honor.”