Chapter one: The fire
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- December 22, 2017, is a day Jeff Young will never forget.
Young, a firefighter for New Hope Fire Department, had just worked a full shift before a call came in about a residential fire on Sugarcane Lane.
“The actual call came in that night as the house exploded. And we got there and it was fully involved," Young said. “We didn’t know if anybody was inside of it.”
Young explained that this particular fire was difficult to put out.
“Every time we put water on it, the fire just didn’t act right. We didn't get any steam conversion,” Young said.
Looking to put out the fire from the back, Young went in through the back door. The experienced firefighter first checked to make sure the floor underneath him was stable before he entered the bedroom.
With the floor stable, Young then turned the hose on but the pressure from the hose forced him through the floor and into the crawlspace where the fire was burning.
“I got trapped between the floor joist and got wedged up underneath a back door that had been kicked in,” Young said.
Citing his firefighter training, Young did everything he was supposed to.
“I didn’t panic. I didn’t take my face piece off and my airway was never compromised,” Young exclaimed.
Stuck in a hole in the floor, Young was unable to reach his PASS device or his air pack to set off an alarm to let his fellow firefighters know he was in trouble.
"I couldn’t get out and immediately started feeling burning on my legs," Young recalled.
Knowing he was in trouble and needed immediate assistance, Young reached for his walkie-talkie but that was also just out of reach.
“So I just yelled 'mayday' as loud as I could three times and tried to get out the whole time,” Young said.
That’s where fellow firefighter John Worley comes in.
Worley was working the fire when he heard the mayday calls and immediately rushed into the burning building to save his colleague.
“When I got there we started going around back, trying to get in," Worley said. "I assigned another fireman to cut a door so we could get into the back and get to where the fire was. That’s where Jeff and another guy from another department were at.”
Hyundai Hometown Hero: John Worley
Worley said he could hear another fireman saying "Jeff's down, Jeff's down."
“In my mind, I was like 'oh crap, we gotta get him out,'” Worley said.
When Worley finally got to Young, he started checking his airways, communicating with him to see if he could respond.
“And Jeff’s not talking to me. So now in my mind, I'm thinking 'not only is he in the hole, but he’s had a heart attack.' So when we get him out we’re going to need to do CPR to save his life," Worley feared.
Worley tried to pull Young out of the hole in the floor but he just wouldn’t budge.
"When I got to him, I pushed him down and he was freed up. That’s when I just pulled him out, rolled him over, put him on his back and pulled him all the way out,” Worley said.
The first thing Young said to Worley was, 'I need some water' and that's when he knew he was ok.
"He did not have a heart attack, thank God. But he was burnt and thirsty," Worley recalled.
Young spent months in the hospital following the accident and had more than 11 surgeries to repair damage from the burns he suffered.
“The whole time I was in the hospital I kept telling them I have to get back on the truck," Young said. "It's like if you get thrown off the horse and if you don’t get back on it you won't get back on it."
Chapter two: The surprise
Worley said he doesn’t see himself as a hero, despite running into a burning building to save a friend and colleague.
"I mean yes, I did pull him out of the hole. But I don’t see myself as a hero for that," Worley said. "I see myself doing my job every day. That’s why I come here."
But Young and Worley's friends and family see things differently.
Worley’s mother heard about WCNC’s Hyundai Hometown Hero promotion asking for nominations for a first responder hometown hero. The winner would be awarded a brand new 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe to thank them for their service.
The two families worked together to nominate Worley.
Thursday morning Worley was in the New Hope Fire Department and started to hear a commotion outside. Worley and his fellow firefighters to see what was happening.
A motorcade led by the Belmont Police Department pulled into the parking lot of the New Hope station with siren blaring.
“First of all, I didn’t know what it was," Worley said. "I was like why are all these sirens going off? And then somebody said it was a parade, which I knew today there wasn’t a parade."
A Hyundai Santa Fe was last to pull into the parking lot with WCNC's anchor Sarah French announcing Worley was the hometown hero and just won a new car.
“I was kind of shocked, especially when they pulled in. I don’t know what to think. It’s amazing,” Worley said.
The surprise was particularly amazing for Worley considering he was still driving a 2009 car.
"A new car is awesome," exclaimed Worley.
Since the heroic act, John Worley has been promoted to Fire Chief and continues to be an example to other firefighters.
Jim Keffer, the Dealer Operator of Keffer Hyundai said it was important for his dealership to honor some of the 'unsung' heroes in the community.
"There's a lot of heroes in the first responders and a lot of times the athletes and other people get recognition and we thought it would be cool if we could do something with first responders," Keffer said.
Nominations are now open for the second round of the Hyundai Hometown tour recognizing military veterans. Click here to nominate a hero in your life.
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