Two Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District firefighters attempting to vent out the hot gasses and smoke building within the burning building.
On July 2 — a year after the California man nearly died inside his burning Carmichael home — David Mealy Jr. reunited with the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District firefighter who saved his life.
But a lot of people already knew about Mealy and firefighter Tyler Williamson — who also doubles as a paramedic — even if they didn’t know the victim’s name. That’s because both play key roles in a training video created after the nearly deadly inferno.
Mealy appears about 16 minutes into the reel, which mostly was constructed from footage captured by cameras mounted on the firefighters.
Williamson pushes Mealy's limp body through a bathroom window. Fire Capt. Jason Wenner
yanks Mealy through from the other end, with an ambulance waiting to rush the burn and smoke inhalation victim to the emergency room.
“The way I describe it is that it definitely tugs on your heartstrings a little bit when someone like David reaches out to you,” Williamson said. “I think anybody that's in any form of public service, let alone first responders, they're always trying to make a difference.”
Tyler Williamson and David Mealy, Jr. posed for a photo after their reunion on Good Day Sacramento on July 2, 2022. Photo courtesy of Tyler Williamson.
That’s also the credo that animates the entire Life Priority video series, which began filming in September of 2021, partly because Williamson was concerned the COVID-19 pandemic was preventing his department from keeping up on analyzing the lessons learned from often tragic events.
He fretted that fellow firefighters might accuse him of becoming a glory hound by focusing on the Carmichael blaze, but Williamson not only played down his valor commendation during his interview with Coffee or Die Magazine, he credited the entire Engine 109 team for the rescue.
The pin that came with his commendation? Williamson gave it to Mealy.
Williamson pointed Coffee or Die to nine other rescues from burning buildings performed by fellow Sacramento County firefighters after the Carmichael blaze. He thought maybe putting their memories to film before they were forgotten would build a library of knowledge to pass to other personnel.
Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District Cpt. JD Flint reaching into the bathroom window that Tyler Williamson was on the other side of with David Mealy. Screen grab from Life Priority episode 00.
To date, the series has grown to six videos.
Footage from the July 2, 2021, rescue shows a blazing split-level house, where a bystander insisted Mealy was trapped inside.
Williamson crawls through the smoke-filled house and almost misses Mealy, who had collapsed on the floor. The firefighter tries to key up his mic to tell his crew he’s found a victim, but heavy radio traffic about the blaze drowns him out.
So he retraces his steps, yells to the other personnel that he located a survivor, and then he muscles Mealy to the window, black smoke flooding into the sky.
The first area that Tyler Williamson attempted to gain access to David Mealy, Jr.'s house on July 2, 2021. Screengrab from Life Priority pilot episode 00.
Williamson admits that he almost stepped over the man while searching for him, but he bumped into his body. Luck played a role in saving Mealy's life, but training and past talks with other firefighters gave Williamson the best odds to make the rescue.
“My hope with even discussing this is that people will ask about it and talk,” Williamson says on the video.
Although Fire Capt. Jason Cahill, the director of the Training Division’s mobile media unit, liked the notion of putting the videos on YouTube so other first responders could chip in their advice, their initiative fell to the wayside while Williamson kept making fire and emergency medical calls.
The project might never have kicked off at all, except Williamson ran into some bad luck of his own.
The wear and tear of firefighting finally took its toll on Williamson. He underwent major surgery for a dislocated shoulder on Jan. 28, 2022. It laid him up for three months of rehab and triggered more months of light duty when he returned to the stationhouse.
Cahill gave Williamson a crash course on interviewing, editing, and filming, and the firefighter had a new gig while he recovered.
“Like anything in the fire service, when they pass down knowledge to you, you shouldn’t take that lightly, and you need to do something with that,” Williamson said. “It's like when you're at work, man, you got to do something for the public. You got to do something for the station, and something for the crew every single day.”
The first Life Priority episode debuted on June 2, and the department tries to put up a new reel every Wednesday.
A Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District firefighter training on securing a dangling vehicle and extricating a person from the vehicle. Screengrab from Life Priority episode R21 2021.
They’ve generated new ideas for the entire department to use. For example, firefighters use a fire-resistant “carryall” to remove smoldering debris from a building in the final stages of extinguishing a blaze.
They now stash a carryall near the front door of a structure or somewhere else that’s easily accessible if there are suspected victims trapped inside the burning building because a firefighter told Williamson it's a great way to move survivors out of the flames, too.
Williamson estimates there are roughly 40 rescues he needs to get on tape, and he pledges to not only keep up the work after he comes off light duty but maybe also expand the videos to other subjects.
“I don't know if this will always stay with just the rescues,” Williamson told Coffee or Die. “That's the No. 1 project I want to get out there first. My goal is that people go, ‘I'm sick and fucking tired of seeing these rescue videos. We've seen them all.’ That's the feedback I want to hear, because if they've seen them all, they've learned all the lessons.”
Editor's note: This story was updated to add the name of the fire captain who pulled the survivor through the window.
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Joshua Skovlund is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die. He has covered the 75th anniversary of D-Day in France, multinational military exercises in Germany, and civil unrest during the 2020 riots in Minneapolis. Born and raised in small-town South Dakota, he grew up playing football and soccer before serving as a forward observer in the US Army. After leaving the service, he worked as a personal trainer while earning his paramedic license. After five years as in paramedicine, he transitioned to a career in multimedia journalism. Joshua is married with two children. His creative outlets include Skovlund Photography and Concentrated Emotion.
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