Michael McLeod, Ricky Hansford: Okeechobee firefighters describe rescuing ranger from brush fire

Posted at 11:57 PM, Apr 18, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-18 23:57:27-04

OKEECHOBEE COUNTY, Fla. -- Firefighters never know when a seemingly routine call may become something far from that.

Okeechobee County firefighters found themselves racing to rescue a forest ranger trapped in a brush fire over the weekend.

Firefighters Michael McLeod and Ricky Hansford were the first on the scene of a brush fire Sunday.

“We knew it was something a little bit more than normal,” said McLeod.

He said when the call first came in, a brush fire was about 20 acres. By the time McLeod and Hansford got to the scene, it was at least 50 acres, they say.

Ultimately, it grew to 450 acres, according to the Florida Forest Service.

When the team got to the scene, McLeod said they started tracking where the fire was moving, and worked to find any homeowners who might be at risk.

“There’s a lot of homes there buried in the woods that you just can’t find,” said Hansford.

But their focus shifted quickly when they saw a forest ranger with the Florida Forest Service in trouble.

“When I first saw him, he was jumping out of the dozer. It was on fire. It was burning,” Hansford said.

Hansford and McLeod were the only crew close to the ranger, and possibly, his only safe way out.

“We needed to stop and help him… he was out there by himself,” Hansford said.

They moved in to help spray down the bulldozer, but with the fire quickly moving in, they made the decision to grab the ranger, abandon the equipment and get out.

Had they not stepped in, both firefighters worry about the danger for the ranger.

“He would have had to run at least 100 yards,” McLeod said.

“Honestly I think it would have ended in a bad way. He had a lot of ground to cover and a lot of fire moving in on him,” Hansford said.

With the dry weather still fueling frequent brush fires, these firefighters are reminded of the importance to be vigilant on every call.

“A fire can get out of hand very quickly.”

McLeod says the ranger went back to work helping fight the fire after the firefighters helped him.