Little Rock Engineers Dennis Davis, John Payne and Firefighters Lance Bradshaw and Brian Whitley

April 21, 2010
When Capt. Eddie Tackett fell through a hole while at a house fire, his fellow firefighters lifted him out.
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Years ago, when a 12-year-old boy eagerly expressed interest in becoming a firefighter, Eddie Tackett showed him the ropes.

His mentoring of that young man -- Dennis Davis -- through the years paid off in a way neither would have imagined.

When Little Rock Capt. Tackett fell through a hole while battling a house fire last September, Davis was one of the men who defied the odds and lifted him out.

For their fast-thinking and working as a team to rescue their captain, Davis, Engineer John Payne, and Firefighters Lance Bradshaw and Brian Whitley were named heroes by Firehouse Magazine.

Tackett, however, calls them his angels.

"They are more than super heroes in my eyes," Tackett said in a telephone interview.

The captain's voice cracks with emotion as he describes what may well have been the final alarm for him and his crew.

He had a hand on Whitley's air pack as the two made their way through the house. Suddenly, the floor opened up, and he was falling.

Whitley recalled dropping to the floor upon seeing his colleague's helmet light go down.

Tackett's mask was knocked off when he fell. "The first thing I did was put it back on."

Whitley grabbed Tackett's hand, and held on for dear life while yelling for help.

"He was like a father to me. There was no way I was letting go. He kept telling me: 'Just go.' But, I told him there was no way I was going out without him."

The house had been renovated several times, and firefighters didn't know it once had a basement that had been sealed off.

"I could see nothing but fire below me and above me where my guys were," Tackett said.

Davis said things were hectic for a moment. But, one thing was for certain -- they weren't abandoning their captain.

As they struggled to pull him back, Tackett said he thought of his men perishing. He thought about their families, and how they would suffer.

"I tried to pull away from them. I told them to let me go ... But, I think that made them try that much harder."

Despite the resistance, Whitley managed to hold on. "My wrist was hot. My arm was hot. I knew he was hot."

Tackett said it felt like Whitley's grip was slipping, adding that at one point he only had hold of the fingertips of his left hand. He was ready to fall to the basement floor, and prayed it would be fast.

But, that thought passed quickly. Realizing he wasn't going to be left behind in the inferno raging below, Tackett swung his legs. On his second kick, Payne managed to grab them, and flipped him out of the hole.

Davis said he and the others grabbed their captain, and made a run for the exit. Tackett laughs when he recalls that it felt as though they ran him into everything on the way out.

Davis, who has since been promoted to captain, said while things were stressful, they knew they couldn't leave him behind. "We've always been like family -- all of us. I've known him for a long, long time."

In some pictures taken of the crew that night, a ghostly figure can be seen near Tackett. Some say it was simply a water mark or defect. The captain has other ideas.

Tackett's fall aggravated a hip injury, and forced him to retire.

Instead of keeping his helmet -- a prized possession of retired firefighters -- he gave it to Davis. And, to Whitley, who held on so tightly that day, he gave his turnout coat.

Whitley still gets emotional when he thinks about how close they were to losing him. "It was a happy, happy moment when we got out of that house. We were exhausted, really exhausted. But we were all smiling."

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