The men felt the heat before they entered the blazing house.
They dropped to their knees, crawled to the limp figure on the kitchen floor and dragged a burned- and smoke-smothered Kevin Blank out through a broken window.
They came out soot-ringed and smoky, but heroes.
Sgts. Jack Chesnutt and Keith Touchberry and Officer John Grenzenbach were awarded for their bravery Tuesday by Vero Beach Police Chief Jim Gabbard. They earned two medals each, one for meritorious service and another for saving a life.
The three received their medals quietly at the Vero Beach City Council meeting.
On Feb. 26, Chesnutt, Touchberry and Grenzenbach braved choking smoke and paint-peeling heat to save Blank, unconscious in his 1777 Highlands Ave. home.
Blank, 38, is recovering at Orlando Regional Medical Center. Neighbors were evacuated from their homes, but Blank was the only one hurt.
“I’ll tell you something – I’ve seen a lot of stuff,” said Kevin Martin, the trio’s lieutenant at the time. “That was one of the bravest things I’ve ever seen.”
The three got to the scene before firefighters arrived and were told by neighbors that a man was trapped inside the burning home.
Touchberry and Chesnutt crawled into the apartment through a hole in the front door, while Grenzenbach waited outside for backup.
“The fumes hit us right in the face, and that’s why we had to crawl on the floor,” Chesnutt said.
Blank was found lying on the kitchen floor, near a window. He was unconscious and burned.
The two officers dragged the man through a broken window and handed him to Grenzenbach. Within seconds of their escape, the kitchen was in flames.
The danger of the rescue didn’t hit home until everyone was safely outside, Chesnutt said. “It was an instantaneous thing,” he said. “We just responded and die it.”
It’s not something you think about, agreed Touchberry, cupping his medals with both hands “I hope I never have to do it again,” he said, determined never to become a firefighter. I Think I’ll keep this job.