AT ABOUT 10 P.M. on September 7, 2013, Tommy Barber and his friend Susan Laney were exiting the elevator of her Fort Pierce, Florida, apartment building when they smelled smoke. “My dogs!” Susan yelled as she ran down the hall to her apartment. Tommy, 54, who is blind, walked toward the smoke.
“I was standing across from Susan’s apartment door; I took four or five steps to the right, and smoke hit me right in the face,” he says. “I banged on the door, yelling, ‘Anybody home?’ But nobody answered.”
Suddenly the door opened, and more smoke billowed out. Tommy heard coughing and reached behind the door, waving his arm until he felt someone. It was Diane Marshall, who lived there. He grabbed her arm and pulled her into the hall, then ran back to the smoke-filled apartment.
Susan and an apartment manager arrived with a fire extinguisher. As Susan pointed the nozzle at the flames, Tommy squeezed the handle until the fire died down.
Diane had fallen asleep with a pot on the stove, and it had caught fire, engulfing the stove top in flames. She later called Tommy to thank him. “I could have [died],” she told a local news station.
As it turned out, battling flames was second nature for Tommy—he had been a firefighter with the St. Lucie County Fire District for about a year in the 1980s. He developed glaucoma in 2000 and lost his sight.
Last November, the St. Lucie County Fire District awarded him and Susan the Citizen Hero Award for their actions. “I wasn’t scared,” says Tommy. “It was just something I had to do.”