Retired firefighter recalls near tragedy of his own 20 years later

An SAFD firefighter is remembering the near-deadly fire he survived in 1997.

SAN ANTONIO - 20 years ago, a fire in a thrift store on the south side of the city nearly claimed the life of another San Antonio firefighter who is now retired. He made it out of the structure, but was severely injured.

As KENS 5 reported, San Antonio Fire Department firefighter Scott Deem was killed in a shopping center blaze on the northwest side Thursday night.

"When they showed the store, that brought me back to my old accident back in '97," said retired firefighter Robert Jacinto.

"My heart dropped realizing that with all the fire showing and smoke and he's missing," he said when he heard two firefighters were missing on the news.

A thrift store was once again up in flames.

When now 67-year-old Robert Jacinto ran into that thrift store on the south side 20 years ago, the building was fully involved in smoke, no flames yet.

"One entrance was in the front, and that's where we went in. Our job was to go in and search for the fire," he said.

They found that fire, came out, got permission to extinguish it and went back in.

"The fire flashed over and over. When it flashed, all the fire started coming out the front door. Firefighters on the outside saw the fire come out, so they thought nobody was inside. They started pulling all the hand lines out, and my hand line was pulled out of my hand," said Jacinto.

He ended up alone, surrounded by flames for a few minutes, with heat close to 1000 degrees causing sweat to steam his body. The air was so hot in his breathing apparatus that his windpipe was burned.

Somehow, Jacinto found his way out of window.

He showed KENS 5 two helmets he used during that fire. One of them was charred, showing clear evidence of how extreme that heat was.

Eyewitness News also showed Jacinto archive footage from that fire. Jacinto pointed out himself on the ground. On the sidewalk were fellow firefighters trying to save his life, and they did.

"I had second and third degree burns over 30 percent of my body," said Jacinto.

Half of his fingers on his left hand were amputated, along with all on the right.

However, Jacinto knew once he got through rehab he wanted to go right back to work.

"I had a doctor that transferred two of my toes to my hand so I could function with that," he said.

That allowed him to return to fighting fires for another 12-13 years.

"We are just firefighters. It's in our blood," Jacinto said.

© 2017 KENS-TV


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