ALBANY, Ga. -- Albany Fire officials have named Dwayne Mann, a 27-year-old part-time firefighter and student, as their 2010 firefighter of the year after they say he pulled an unconscious man from his burning apartment before going back into the blaze to back up his partner.
In a brief ceremony in front of the Albany City Commission Tuesday, Fire Chief James Carswell presented Mann with the award.
"I don't know how I really feel," Mann said in an interview with the Herald. "I don't really think I'm any more special than anybody else. Our job is to protect life and property...Any would've done the same, but this is really a big honor for me."
According to Deputy Fire Chief Ron Rowe, firefighters were dispatched to a report of a kitchen fire at 2507 Nottingham Way Apt. 608. Upon arrival, the crew that Mann was with noticed smoke and flames and began laying down lines to attack the fire.
Lt. Lorenzo Hall ordered Mann and Firefighter Brian Hallman to begin search and rescue operations.
"It was definitely intense," Mann said. "In live fire training...you know its dark, but that night, it was pitch black... you couldn't see anything."
Upon entering the apartment, Hallman and Mann saw the flames. Hallman began attacking them, while Mann began what firefighters call a "left hand search pattern," checking the apartment on his hands and knees by feeling his way around.
"It was so dark, we had to search by hand, and that's when I found the victim," Mann said. "He was lying unconscious."
Mann grabbed him and pulled him to the threshold of the door while Hallman provided protection from both men from the flames with his hose.
"Yea, I pulled him to the door way...the threshold there... and handed the victim off to my lieutenant and another firefighter and went back inside," Mann said. "I knew my partner needed backup and we weren't sure if there may have been as second victim inside."
Thankfully, the man Mann discovered was the only occupant of the apartment and had apparently been overcome with smoke and lost consciousness before he could escape the apartment.
The man was later revived by firefighters and EMT's and has recovered fully.
For Mann, who is still in his first year on the job as a part-time firefighter, the experience was exactly the reason why the 27-year-old decided to go into the business.
"Protecting lives and property from damage is what we do," he said. "I just wasn't expecting something like this to happen so early in my career."
Carswell credits not only Mann, but the quick work of the entire crew that night -- Battalion Chief Marty Leverett, Hall, Lt. Joe Potter, Engineer Tony Jordan, Relief Driver Steve Hall and Hallman -- all of whom were awarded medals of valor for their efforts.
"(Mann) is just a natural hero," Carswell said. "From his military service to his work now with the department, he's the perfect example of the best ideals and practices of our department."
Mann said he never thought about being a firefighter until he received some training on aircraft crash preparation and liked the thrill of it.
A five year veteran of the United States Marine Corps, Mann served two tours of duty in Iraq in support of operation Iraqi Freedom and while his job was supposed to center around being an aviation electrician, Mann says he found himself doing a temporary assignment as military police, guarding checkpoints and escorting convoys around Al-Asad Airbase -- one of the most deadly jobs on the ground in Iraq.
Mann says he's proud of his service to his country, even though he never planned on going overseas when he enlisted.
"I was at Cherry Point on a firing range in boot camp on September 11, 2001," Mann said. "I remember my drill instructor coming up to us and telling us what happened and just saying that life was going to get real crazy, real fast."
Nine years later, Mann found himself in another hot spot he never expected: a burning apartment.
"I'm just glad to have the opportunity and hope things just grow from here."