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Deputies pull couple from fire

MANATEE — Two Manatee County Sheriff’s Office deputies could hear a faint voice Sunday night barely making its way through thick smoke caused by a house fire.

Deputies John Lawson and Bryce Meade went to the home on Sanibel Way, off State Road 70, in response to an abandoned 911 call. When they arrived around 9 p.m., they could see smoke coming from the home and called for firefighters.

Both deputies ran inside and heard a woman’s voice calling for help.

“I’m in here,” she called.

“Where are you?” Lawson yelled.

“I’m in here,” she said again.

Lawson and Meade, both 31, fought through smoke in the home and found an elderly woman connected by tubes to medical equipment in a bed that had caught fire.

After pushing through the heavy smoke, Lawson disconnected the woman from the equipment and lifted her off the bed, carrying her outside and handing her to a neighbor who had also come to help.

Meade realized another person was still in the home and went back inside as the blaze grew strength, finding the woman’s husband inside. She pulled the elderly man from the house, and later a third K-9 Deputy, Mike Gerhart, went into the smoke-filled home and saved the couple’s two cats.

Within minutes the fire engulfed the room where the woman had been, leaving Meade emotional as both she and Lawson sat in an ambulance after receiving treatment for smoke inhalation.

“I am just extremely happy we got both of them out unharmed,” Meade said.

The deputies most likely saved the woman’s life as firefighters arrived to find her room fully engulfed in flames, and the home filled with smoke, Southern Manatee Fire Rescue Battalion Chief Herb Smith said.

“The smoke was too much for us, so I know it was too much for them,” said Smith.

Investigators estimated the loss from the fire at $50,000.

Smith said the cause of the fire is under investigation, but it is not believed to be suspicious. Deputies Lawson and Meade said in the commotion they believed they saw an oxygen tank near the woman on fire. She was taken to Lakewood Ranch Medical Center with non-life-threatening injuries, and her husband went with other family members, Smith said.

Lawson, a deputy in training, shook his head while sitting in the ambulance and summed up the night as he and Meade prepared to finish their patrol shift.

“All’s well that end well,” he said.