JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry announced a new position Thursday afternoon within the city's fire department to address fire safety and prevention.
Just days before, emergency dispatcher Alonda Oates answered the call of a woman whose house was on fire on West 13th Street in Moncrief.
“The first thing I heard was screaming," Oates explained.
During the call, she could hear the woman struggling to breathe.
"Use the towel or something like that to block the smoke from coming in. They're coming, ma’am. They're coming. Try your best to remain calm," Oates can be heard saying during the 911 call.
She sent firefighters to the home and remained on the phone for 10 minutes with the woman, providing her comfort and assurance.
“I was just trying to get her to do all that she can do to just hold out a little bit longer until the guys got there," Oates said. "Then, I heard them coming through the door. There’s no happier feeling that comes over you when you know that the guys are there. They’re doing their thing.”
The woman, and two others, made it out.
The fire was one of 40 in Jacksonville so far this January, which has resulted in five deaths, eight injuries and close to a dozen rescues.
Jacksonville Fire and Rescue says it averages about 30 fires a month.
With the busy and deadly start to 2022, the city created a position aimed at preventing future fires.
“If we have a fire in a neighborhood, that position is going to go out, he or she whichever one is chosen, is going to go out and coordinate the walk that’s going to happen as we canvass that neighborhood and make sure those folks have the information to be safe and to have smoke detectors installed," JFRD Chief Keith Powers explained.
They’re looking to make a promotion internally in about two weeks, Powers says.
As for the hero, Oates says, she was just doing her job.
“Here’s a person who’s in need of help and you are in a position to help her or him, so that’s what I was doing," she said.
The mayor held the news conference to announce the new position in a residential area of the Moncrief Park neighborhood on West 21st Street. That's the same block where earlier this month, a grandmother died and two young children were taken to the hospital with critical injuries after a fire destroyed their home.
The children, 2-year-old Stephanie and 4-year-old Derrick, were both put on ventilators at the hospital, according to family members.
Curry, joined by representatives from the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department also shared details of how increasing funding for public safety has delivered life-saving results.
“That rescue on Monday can be directly attributed to an increase in my most recent budget that was approved by our city council,” Curry said. “I allocated additional funding for the department, which allowed for 14 new positions with the fire communications division.”
Following the news conference, Curry, Chief Powers and Dr. Charles Moreland, Director of Community & International Affairs, conducted a community fire walk.
A neighbor initially called police to report the fire on Jan. 12. No one was able to help before JFRD crews arrived due to a burglar bar on the door that firefighters had to remove before they could get in, JSO said.
Anyone with information about the fire is asked to call JSO's non-emergency number at 904-630-0500 or email JSOCrimeTips@jaxsheriff.org. You can also remain anonymous by calling First Coast Crime Stoppers at 1-866-845-TIPS.