GATLINBURG (WATE) – Without the first responders, some guests might have died at Westgate Resorts during the Gatlinburg fires.
That night, 12,000 guests were vacationing at the Smoky Mountain getaway. Two guests were trapped in an elevator in one of the resorts multi-story cabins. Three Andersonville Volunteers Fire Department firefighters rushed to rescue them.
“It was scary for me as an incident commander because you’re sitting there and you’re watching your guys go into harm’s way. And you honestly don’t know at that point in time whether they’re coming out of that building or not alive,” said Andersonville Volunteer Fire Department firefighter Matthew Burrell.
The firefighters found the building engulfed in flames when they heard the screams for help.
“I was told at the bottom that we had five minutes, no matter what, we had five minutes to get in and out,” said firefighter Lonnie Poore.Previous story:Westgate Resort in Gatlinburg plans to reopen this weekend
The firefighters quickly started their rescue efforts.
“At that point in time, there was two air packs there and it was just lucky that one of them was Gatlinburg’s and one of them was theirs,” said Poore. “We got them on, went to the stop of the stairs, forced the elevator open and then from there it took us probably all of five minutes to get everybody out.”
These firefighters saved the lives of those two people. They, along with several other brave first responders were honored Wednesday by Westgate Resorts.
“We feel grateful for it,” said Burrell. “Humbled by it, it’s just awesome. And it’s awesome the job the Westgate employees did getting 12,000 people off the mountain without a loss of life.”
Westgate President and CEO David Siegel says he is appreciative of the first responders and their efforts. He says he is also thankful for his employees who helped save guests’ lives.
“They’re incredible, I can’t say enough about them,” said Siegel. “They risked their own lives to get 1,500 people off the mountain in a very short amount of time and that definitely saved lives.”
The resort had its grand reopening celebration Thursday.
“In the long run it’s going to be better than it ever was before but for the next 18 months it’s going to be a lot of work,” said Siegel.