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Everyday Hero: Local firefighter attacked trying to save a life

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Posted at 6:22 PM, May 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-17 18:22:03-04

SUFFOLK, Va. - News 3 is honoring a local firefighter who ran into a burning building, risking his life to save another. And during that effort, the victim attacked him.

It was shortly after 4 a.m. last July - a fire call to the Suffolk Tower Apartments on N. Main Street. Firefighter Robert Adam Short remembers it well.

He says as soon as his truck pulled up, he could see the smoke.

The city's fire chief called it a very involved three-alarm fire. Crews from Fire Station One, just minutes away, went right to work, heading to the fifth floor of the high-rise to save lives.

One of the challenges Short acknowledges was losing visibility due to the heavy smoke.

"As soon as we open the door - there's a door in the stairwell - and when we opened, that's where we lost all visibility," he recalled.

It's been almost a year, and you can still see soot above the window in the room where the fire originated. It was out in the hallway where Short encountered the victim and was trying to help rescue him, but that's when the victim turned combative and started fighting Short as the firefighter was trying to save the victim's life.

Later, investigators would learn, the man Short saved would be the man accused of starting the fire - intentionally setting it to harm himself. And during that scuffle, that man removed Short's protective face shield.

When that happened, what was going through Short's mind?

"Really? 'Let's just get him out. Let's get him out. Let's re-situate and go back to work.' We passed him off to another crew, and our unit kept on searching, so we entered back into the fire floor and continued our search."

Suffolk Fire and Rescue Chief Michael Barakey talked about what Short could've been exposed to when his face shield was removed.

"What we don't speak of, mostly, is the carcinogens that are inside those fires - the heated gases; the cancer-making materials, and one big gulp of that..."

The chief believes that could have been deadly.

"But in an environment of that - heat and gases; carcinogens; combative patient; a person who was going to die in that building - and if it wasn't for him and his crew, he would've died, and to take that type of physical assault and to continue his performance is admirable," Barakey said.

For those brave actions, News 3 presented Short with an Everyday Hero award, along with a $300 Visa gift card from our community partner, Southern Bank.

Short was very grateful but had a question.

"Well, thank you very much. Uh, can we switch it and put Rescue One, because it was a team effort?" he asked.

Short definitely wanted to stress that. And as for what he wants to do with the gift card?

"Oh wow! Yeah, yeah - well, we can use that for station meals!"

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Short also has been nominated for a Valor Award, which celebrates our first responders from across Hampton Roads for their selfless acts of bravery.

The Valor Awards are sponsored by the Hampton Roads Chamber. News 3 is proud to be a media sponsor. That program is next month at the Virginia Beach Convention Center.

To nominate someone for an Everyday Hero Award, click here.