COVINGTON, Ga. – No matter how many calls a firefighter responds to in his or her career, some of those calls will stay with them for the rest of their careers, and maybe for life.
The Covington Fire Department’s B-Shift responded to one such call on Labor Day when it responded to the shooting of Covington Police Officer Matt Cooper. The firefighters' efforts that day have been credited with helping save Officer Cooper’s life.
One month later, on Oct. 3, CFD Station 22 B might have responded to another such call and a woman who credits them with saving her life was on hand at Tuesday night's city council meeting to tell her moving story and publicly thank them.
The description of the incident from the report is stark and all business.
First responders were dispatched to Interstate 20 westbound at 11:39 p.m. on a report of a one-car accident with an entrapment.
“Silver car overturned female entrapped off roadway,” one of the dispatch notes said.
Firefighters were en route less than two minutes later and arrived at the scene within six minutes of dispatch.
”CFD units arrived on location, secured the worksite, made contact with the individuals trapped, stabilized the vehicle with rescue jacks and cribbing, deployed a safety line and began the extrication. Patient access was gained by removing the driver's door and both patients were removed thru the driver's side rear door. EMS provided patient care and both were transported emergency to Grady.”
Incident reports rarely convey the human elements of an emergency response. First responders deal with real people at the worst moments of their lives. Such was the case for the Brookhaven woman traveling on Interstate 20 Oct. 3.
Fire Chief Jeremy Holmes told council members he had planned to come before them to thank them for allowing his department to get training and purchase extrication equipment. Instead, he introduced Tiffany Coggins.
”On Oct. 3 around 11:30 p.m. my life completely changed,” she said.
“I was coming up Highway 20 from Augusta, Georgia and my car went out of control and I was in a terrible accident. When I came to, there were two bystanders who told me that the fire department was on the way. I think at that point I blacked out again and when I came to, fire station number 22 was there.”
Coggins, who is African-American, continued.
“They did not look at me for my color,” she said. “They were simply there to do their job. And what I can say is that their team, fire station number 22, from Stephen (Middlebrooks) to Joey (Megrue) to Joel (Edwards) to Shane (Strickland), when I say that they are my earth angels, they actually saved my life.”
Once she was released from the hospital, Coggins said she set out to find the crew who had helped her.
“I had been calling around trying to find who these earth angels were,” she said. “I called Newton, I called Rockdale, I called everyone I could think of and never thought about Covington because I’ve never been to Covington. I didn’t know this little garden existed. I knew about Conyers, but I didn’t really know about Covington."
Coggins described how the firefighters worked to comfort her while they were cutting her out of her mangled vehicle.
“I look at them as my friends forever,” she said. “I know they’re chiefs and captains, but they’re my friends, they’re my family because, in a time of need, they were there. They worked so hard to cut me out of my vehicle that was a can at that point.
“But they worked as a team. Some I don’t know your name but I remember your faces. I remember Stephen because, I was a nervous wreck, of course, but he held my hand the entire time. When they were about to throw the white sheet over us to cut us out, of course when you see the white sheet, you think of ‘I’m gone,’ so I asked Stephen, I said ‘Stephen am I dead?’ And he said ‘No, Miss. Tiffany. I’m right here.’
“Stephen literally took his whole body, came through my window and laid across me and my friend to protect us and to ease my anxiety And I don’t know many people who would have done that. But I know what they did for me. And I remember a young gentleman that was on top of us. I remember him sweating and I remember his beautiful blue eyes. And I just remember him talking to me and saying, 'Miss Tiffany, we’re going to get y'all out of this car.’ That’s the only thing I can remember and come to find out, that was Joey.”
Coggins thanked the council for approving the training and equipment that helped save her life.
“These are the things I want to say,” she said. “That I thank all of you for approving their training, for approving the equipment that they used because on Oct. 3, they showed up and they showed out.
“And not only Station 22, but whatever station that you serve at, just know that it’s people like me that are forever grateful and thankful.”
Coggins said she had the opportunity to visit Station 22 a couple of weeks ago and thank the firefighters.
“So I went down to their fire department maybe two weekends ago and I broke bread with them and I thanked them for saving my life,” she said. “I live in Brookhaven and when they said they were having this council meeting on the 13th, I wouldn’t be anywhere else but here, thanking these brave men, my friends, for your support, for just going above and beyond.
“You may say ‘It’s my job,’ but I want to say thank you.”
Coggins concluded,” I stand here before you, a living testament of what these firemen actually do here. To their families, I thank you for lending them to us, to the citizens, because I can’t say if they hadn’t cut me out of that car where I would be today.
“I pray you each and every one of you every single night and my life will be forever changed because of you.”