South Carolina Firefighters Rescue Man From Warehouse Fire

April 7, 2008
With a cell phone, the man told dispatchers he was trapped inside the building.


An Upstate man is alive because of a a cell phone, a dispatcher and some Oconee County firefighters.

Mark Coleman was rescued from a fire at an old cotton warehouse in downtown Seneca that burned early Sunday morning.

Coleman called 911 to report the fire at about 2:30 a.m. He told dispatchers that he was inside the burning building.

He told dispatchers that he went into the building to see where smoke was coming from. He said he got in through a chute in the back of the building and was unable to get out.

The dispatcher relayed Colemans location to a co-worker who was talking to firefighters on the scene.

Crews from several departments responded to the fire and were eventually able to rescue the Coleman, who suffered from smoke inhalation.

One firefighter also suffered smoke inhalation while trying to rescue Coleman. Another firefighter injured an ankle, and a third was treated for a cut on his hand.

Firefighters responded to the call at about 2:40 a.m. of a fire in the warehouse district on East Main Street in Seneca.

Coleman told dispatchers he was trapped inside the building.

Dispatcher: "Seneca 911?" Coleman: "I am in the old cotton gin." Dispatcher: "uh huh" Coleman: "It is on fire. I mean it is red hot, blazing right now." Dispatcher: "Well, get out of it!"

The dispatcher continued talking to Coleman as he tried unsuccessfully to get out of the building.

Dispatcher: "Were you inside when it started?" Coleman: "No. I came over here just to see what was going on, to see why it was smoking." Dispatcher: "Oh. Did you?" Coleman: "Yeah. I got in here, now I can't find my way back out." Dispatcher: "We're trying to get to you, Mark" Coleman: "I'm on the back side of the building (coughing). I'm on the bottom floor." Dispatcher: "He's on the bottom floor of the back side of the building."

Firefighters told dispatchers they were having trouble finding where Coleman got into the warehouse, which was dark and filled with smoke.

About 15 minutes into his call Coleman appeared to begin to panic as he said smoke was filling the area of the warehouse where he was lost.

Coleman: "Please help me." Dispatcher: "They are." Coleman: "Please help me." Coleman: "I'm going to die here, ain't I?" Dispatcher: "No, you're not. No you're not, Mark. We're trying to get to you now." Coleman: "Oh God! (coughing)" Dispatcher: "Mark, stay close to the floor."

Coleman asked the dispatcher to ask firefighters to make some noise and the dispatcher asked Coleman to yell so that the firefighters could locate him.

Dispatcher: "Can you scream again, Mark." Coleman: "Help! Help!"

The 911 recording ends just before firefighters rescued Coleman.

Firefighters said that there were no flames in the area where he was found, just plenty of smoke and heat.

Seneca fire Capt. Todd Williams said, Basically, we got in there blind-sided and couldnt hardly breathe.

Williams said that the warehouse wasn't in operation, but did have cotton products stored inside.

The cause of the fire is under investigation as is the reason Coleman was in the warehouse.

"I want to say that's exactly the way we expect the outcome to be, but in this situation with all that was going on, it's a miracle," Williams said.

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