Firefighter Thanks His Colleagues for Saving His Life
Interview with firefighter Billy Yelvington, who was trapped by a collapsed roof
ANCHORAGE - Anchorage firefighter Billy Yelvington spends his life helping others.
But last Sunday, roles were reversed, and it was Yelvington who needed saving.
"I really thought I wasn't going to come back from this; I really felt in my heart, at first, that I'm not getting out of this one, I'm not going home".
Yelvington and his captain were the first ones into a burning home on Campbell Airstrip Road in East Anchorage.
The 46-year-old crawled out onto the second-story back deck where the fire was raging.
That’s when he heard the loud creaking sound.
“I instinctively knew that something was going to happen and that it wasn't going to be good," Yelvington said.
He turned and headed back towards the glass doors, trying to get back into the house.
"The next thing I know I got hit by a two-ton heavy thing and everything kind of went dark for a second; it really knocked the wind out of me, knocked everything out of me.”
Yelvington says investigators at the scene said their initial estimates were that 6,000 pounds of ice dam, snow and roofing had collapsed on him.
The debris crushed him to a point that breathing was almost impossible.
"But I realized as soon as I took my first breath in that my mask was stuck to my face, meaning I wasn't getting any oxygen through my mask."
He managed to reach for his radio, and started calling mayday.
"Captain Hermes crawled underneath there and saw me and he called mayday on his radio which got through and got everything rolling."
For 15 minutes, Yelvington wasn't sure if he'd see his family, including his 10-year-old daughter Amber, ever again.
But then, a sign of hope.
"I started hearing chainsaws fire up, and in the distance I remember feeling a sense of relief: I'm still in a bad spot but I hear them coming."
It took 25 to 30 firefighters with some powerful equipment to finally get Yelvington free.
"Those guys were stellar that day, they did it flawlessly and I'm here because of that.”
Yelvington says he feels like he's been given a second chance in life.
"When that came down on top of me, I felt things popping, I felt it must have been tendons or ligaments popping, but I felt things popping."
Billy Yelvington survived without a single broken bone. He has secondary degree burns on his back, lower leg damage, a knee injury and a lot of swelling and bruises.
"I'm indebted to my brothers on the AFD for the rest of my life because I wouldn't be here without them,” he said.