Heroics on James Island save a man's life

JAMES ISLAND, SC (WCSC) - In the middle of playing catch with his kids at James Island High School, Paul Voell looked up and realized something was wrong. A column of smoke rose high above the treetops in the distance. Without hesitation, Voell jumped into his car and took off.

Minutes after hitting speeds of 100 miles per hour, Voell screeched to a stop on Clark Sound Circle in Bayview Farms.

"It was unbelievable," he said, describing the scene like an "oil rig fire with flames shooting everywhere."

Pulling in right behind the James Island resident was off duty Mount Pleasant firefighter Greg Kent who had also saw smoke fill the sky while out with his dog.

As the two men arrived, neighbor Rachel Spence says the fire intensified in the garage.

"It sounded like a jet engine about to take off," says Spence, who was still trying to get firetrucks on the scene. "We just were calling, calling 911...we were just hoping the fire trucks would get here."

James Island Battalion Chief Richard Rodgers says the closest crews were elsewhere.

"There's a station less than a mile and a half from here," Rodgers said. "And they happened to be out training."

As neighbors continued calling for help, Voell and Kent were told a paraplegic man was trapped inside the home by his care giver that had made it outside.

"It was adrenaline, 100% adrenaline," says Voell after hearing someone was in the home. "My main concern was getting that guy out of the house."

The two men made their way around the back of the house where the man's bedroom was and heard his calls for help.

Kent says the men tried to get into the home by crawling on their hands and knees several times, but the intense smoke and heat continued pushing them out.

Finally, Kent says the smoke lifted just enough for them to see inside the room and locate the man laying on his bed.

Kent was able to grab the hospital bed frame and pull it toward the window where both men hoisted the disabled man through a window and to safety as firetrucks started arriving on the scene.

An effort that Kent says is the "apex of his career."

Voell says it was fate the two men showed up in enough time to save the man's life.

"I've been helped out a lot," Voell says. "And this is my giving back."

Battalion Chief Rodgers says he was shocked to hear a citizen rescue was happening while he was en route to the fire.

"It don't happen often," says Chief Rodgers. "But citizens...they like to pull together pretty well and it was a group effort. I don't know what would have happened if they wouldn't have been here."

Firefighters from James Island, the City of Charleston and St. Andrews Fire Departments put out the flames soon after. Fire officials say 40% of the home, mainly the garage, is destroyed. The rest of the home has major smoke damage.

Battalion Chief Rodgers says investigators are still trying to pinpoint the source of the fire.

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