STUART, Fla. — It was a stunning explosion in the quiet boating community of Manatee Pocket in Martin County. On a quiet Sunday in August 2022, a propane tank onboard a local boat caught fire, prompting an explosion that sent flames shooting into the air.
Martin County Sheriff's Office Deputies Buddy Sprott and Danny Hill were on marine patrol. The pair rushed to the scene and boarded the boat that was engulfed in flames. Nearby boaters told them the boat's owner was still on board.
"The cabin was completed closed and then the rear of it was actually blocked by fire," Sprott said. "So we were able to breach a little window ... Through that window, I was able to see the guy standing there. The only thing he was able to say at the time was just that, 'I need help.'"
The pair tried tugging and pulling at the hatch on the bow of the boat. The hatch would have given them access to the boater stuck below. At first try, the hatch appeared to be stuck.
"Buddy was trying to get him to go unlock the hatch for us, but he wasn't moving that way," Hill said.
"I was begging and pleading with him, trying to get him to open that front hatch, because we knew that the was the only way we were going to get him out," Sprott said.
With no way around the flames, the pair got back on their patrol boat, searching for anything that could help them break the hatch door. They found nothing.
"We couldn't find anything to break the hatch, but we knew the flames were getting too hot," Sprott added. "We were actually about to pull away when both of us made a conscious effort to say, 'Hey man, let's try one more time.' Thank God for the one more time."
When the deputies boarded the burning boat the second time, they pulled on the hatch door. This time, it opened with ease.
"We're not sure exactly what caused it to be able open," Hill said. "I don't know if the mechanism on the hatch ended up breaking from us hitting it so much."
"When we jumped back up there and pulled on it, it just opened right up," Sprott said. "To this day, it's still a mystery to us. The good lord upstairs helped us out on that one."
The two deputies pulled the boater off the burning boat and onto their marine unit. The boater was taken to a hospital and survived his injuries.
Sprott and Hill are now nominated for the First Responders Appreciation Foundation's LEO Awards.