By Robbyn Mitchell
Times Staff Writer
TAMPA - The firefighters couldn't see anything as the water blasted through the hole where the roof used to be.
Still, they ventured deeper into the four-alarm blaze at the North Boulevard Homes apartments Saturday. They heard a child was inside.
"We would have never gone in," said firefighter Eric Stokes. "At that point we were in complete defensive mode."
Engine 4 got the call as the blaze ravaged the second floor of the building in the 1500 block of W. Main Street. They strapped on their breathing tanks and went to look for the little girl inside Unit 1512.
On the first floor, smoke made it hard to see, but it cleared up as the firefighters ascended the stairs.
At the top, the crew heard a scream. Stokes entered a back bedroom through a hallway with a roof so damaged from the fire sunlight shone through. He opened the door and all he could see was a jet stream of water pouring in from an aerial fire hose.
As he tried to get the water redirected, two tiny arms latched onto his leg. "She ran into me and hugged me," Stokes said.
He scooped the child up and made his way to the hallway. Makayla Bryant, 1 year old, clothed in a tiny blue T-shirt and a diaper, stared curiously at the man carrying her out.
"She had little barrettes in her hair," he said. "It's amazing the things you remember."
Outside the two-story apartment he handed her off to waiting paramedics. Makayla was taken to Tampa General Hospital, where she was in critical condition after suffering smoke inhalation.
Delores Williams told rescuers that she forgot about the girl in all the commotion of the fire, said Capt. Bill Wade, a spokesman for Tampa Fire Rescue. Williams said neighbors came banging on her door at 1512 to ask to borrow her fire extinguisher, Wade explained. She obliged, but when they returned they told her she had to get out quickly because the whole building was on fire.
Williams ran outside. When she remembered the girl was upstairs, the building was too engulfed in flames to go back in. She told the firefighters, and they sent in the crew of Engine 4.
Wade said the fire started in 1516A, an upstairs apartment. Regina Jordan heard a popping sound in a bedroom and opened the door to find the room on fire. Her 7-year-old son lit a piece of paper on fire and dropped it on the bed, fire rescue reported. The flames spread throughout the bedroom but both Jordan and her son got out safely. The boy was referred to Tampa's Juvenile Firesetters program.
The flames ripped through the shared attic area of the second floor units, displacing nine families, a total of 28 people. The fire caused damages totaling at least $600,000.
Even an hour after the fire, Stokes was amazed they'd found the girl.
"There was smoke and debris," said Stokes, 37, who has been with the department for 41/2 years. "The fact that she was conscious and breathing was amazing."
He'd never had to save a child before.
"It's what you hope to do as a firefighter, save lives," Stokes said.
Copyright 2010 Times Publishing Company. All Rights ReservedSt. Petersburg Times (Florida) - July 25, 2010 Sunday