Aug. 04--"I remember I heard a small explosion and then within seconds the room started filling with gas."
Patrick Bryant said he was working in a lab at MFG Chemical on Kimberly Park Drive on a seemingly normal workday the morning of July 7. Then, at approximately 5:30 a.m., Bryant remembers hearing the event caused by a reactor that injured another employee, Jason Jeffers, 28, of Chatsworth.
Bryant, 26, of Calhoun, said he was one of the first to evacuate the building but soon realized Jeffers was still inside.
"I don't know, I had a gut feeling he hadn't made it out yet," Bryant said.
Bryant said he, along with his supervisor and another employee, went back inside the building hoping to find Jeffers. He said he did not have a respirator mask since he worked in the lab.
"I've never had a respirator but that one day I put on a respirator mask I found and it fit perfectly," he said.
Bryant said he searched through the gas for approximately 10 minutes before going back outside to see if Jeffers had made it out. Realizing that Jeffers was still inside, Bryant went in a second time, he said.
"So we went back in for the second time and we split up," he said. "I wandered around for about a minute and I found him. He was up against the wall and his eyes were all black. He was foaming from the mouth from the maleic anhydride reacting inside his lungs and he was having a seizure."
Bryant said he picked Jeffers up and started walking toward the door. As a result of Jeffers' seizure, Bryant's respirator mask and hard hat were knocked off. Jeffers' body went limp and Bryant said he walked to the door without a mask, breathing in gas for approximately a minute.
"I laid him down outside, he wasn't responsive and he wasn't breathing or anything, and that's when I started yelling, 'Help, help, help,'" Bryant said.
After Bryant put his hand on Jeffers' chest, Jeffers started gasping for air.
"He was struggling to breathe and he kept saying, 'I can't breathe, I can't breathe,'" Bryant said.
The men had had a chance encounter the night before. According to Bryant, they had never had a conversation until that night.
"He was showing me pictures of his kids and we got to talking back and forth, you know, I got a baby on the way, his wife is five months pregnant. Had he not been showing me (pictures) earlier that night I can't say that I would have been volunteering (to go into the building)," Bryant said. "This sounds horrible, but I got kids of my own and then all I could think about at that time was he's my age ... and he's got the same amount of kids as I do with a baby on the way. That's honestly the only thing I was thinking about."
Bryant said he was at a loss on how to describe the scene.
"It looked like a horror movie -- it's hard to explain, it was tough to see," he said.
Bryant recalled waiting on the ambulance to come and for the paramedics to attend to Jeffers. He said they waited for roughly 15 to 20 minutes trying to help Jeffers breathe. When they realized the ambulance wouldn't come near the building, they put Jeffers in a truck and drove him to the medical responders.
Deputy Fire Chief Gary Baggett with the Dalton Fire Department said firefighters could not approach the building without first knowing what kind of chemicals they were dealing with.
"When we don't know what that chemical is, we have no choice but to take a very cautious and time-consuming approach to the incident," Baggett said.
"A lot of things just fell into line, and the doctors even told me that had he been in there any longer he would have not made it out," Bryant said.
Bryant sustained minor injuries from breathing in the gas and has since been following up with respiratory therapists.
Monday marked four weeks since Jeffers was injured and his wife Robin said his condition is slowly improving.
"They believe he will make a full recovery, it's just going to take time," she said.
She said her husband sustained severe chemical burns to his lungs and has been on life support since the incident. He was sedated, but doctors at the hospital in Kennesaw have been slowly waking him, she said.
Jason Jeffers also suffered burns to 15-20 percent of his body, though Robin said most have healed. As for burns he sustained to his eyes, doctors will have to wait to assess the extent of the damage, she said.
"It still feels like a dream," Robin Jeffers said.
The family set up a Go Fund Me account online called Support for the Family of Jason Jeffers (www.gofundme.com/b6m9qs) where $894 has been donated so far.
Bryant said he has been with MFG Chemical since January.
"As far as I'm concerned, it's a pretty great place to work," he said. "This was a freak accident, nobody expected this to happen." The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is investigating the incident.
Bryant said he keeps in contact with Robin Jeffers on a weekly basis, checking in and hoping for a full recovery for Jason.
She is grateful for his actions.
"I've expressed my thankfulness to him, and he knows how I feel about what he did," Robin Jeffers said. "I believe he is a hero."
Copyright 2014 - The Daily Citizen, Dalton, Ga.