2-year-old burned in fatal fire meets Chattanooga firefighters who rescued him (with video)

2-year-old burned in fatal fire meets Chattanooga firefighters who rescued him (with video)

December 10th, 2013 by Beth Burger in Local Regional News

Senior Firefighter Andy Carson watches as 2-year-old Tyler Jackson plays with a toy firetruck at Chattanooga Fire Department Station 5 on Monday. The toy was a gift from the firefighters of Station 5, who saved his life during an April 1 fire.

Photo by C. B. Schmelter/Times Free Press.

Senior Firefighter Kyle Duggan takes a picture of Shondell Jackson and her 2-year-old son, Tyler, in a ladder truck at Chattanooga Fire Department Station 5 on Monday. Tyler was rescued from an April 1 fire that claimed the life of his brother.

Photo by C. B. Schmelter/Times Free Press.

Tyrell Jackson died in the April 1 fire. (Photo by Shondell Jackson)

Photo by Contributed Photo/Times Free Press.

When 2-year-old Tyler Jackson was rescued by Chattanooga firefighters, his family couldn't even recognize him.

Burns marred most of his face and 70 percent of his body. Doctors were not sure he would survive.

A little more than eight months later, Tyler, who wears scars from the blaze, donned a red plastic hat and played with a fire truck given to him by firefighters at Station 5 at 809 S. Willow St.

His brother, 3-year-old Tyrell Jackson, wasn't as fortunate. He died in the April 1 blaze.

"Last night I was looking at pictures from Christmas last year. I just cried my eyes out," said Shondell Jackson, the boys' mother. "He was so sweet and innocent and loving."

"We miss him so much," said Georgetta Jackson, the boys' grandmother. "Every time we look at Tyler, ... the things he do are like Tyrell. To me in my heart, Tyrell is still here."

When Capt. Dean Rogers arrived at 2014 Rawlings St. around 10 a.m., the front of the brick duplex was already fully engulfed in flames.

"We knew our only hope was going through the back," Rogers said.

But bars covered the doors and windows, and first responders struggled to get inside.

Firefighters used a flathead ax to pry apart the bars on the back door. Senior Firefighter Kyle Duggan was the first one in. Rogers followed.

There was zero visibility.

Cautiously, they moved forward. Tyler, who was badly burned and unconscious, was found just beyond the doorway of his room.

"I just happened to go into his bedroom and found him in there," Rogers said.

His brother, Tyrell, was found dead inside his room one door down.

One by one, Rogers carried both boys out in his arms.

Rogers and Duggan later received Firefighter of the Year honors for their bravery that day.

Investigators still have not determined what caused the fire.

But none of that mattered as Tyler played in the fire station Monday morning. Firefighters ushered him around and allowed him to get behind the wheel of ladder trucks with sirens flashing.

"That's the first contact we've had with him. We've heard bits and pieces of information that he's doing well -- that he's home," Rogers said. "It makes it all worthwhile."

Tyler's grandmother arranged for him to meet the firefighters, and she took the opportunity to express her gratitude.

"They took a chance on their life just to go in there and save them," Georgetta Jackson said. "We didn't want to send no cards or nothing. We wanted to do it person."

Tyler has a long recovery ahead of him after spending time at the Joseph M. Still Burn Center in Augusta, Ga. His next appointment is Friday. Every time he grows, he'll have to have a surgery to allow the skin to stretch, and in some cases receive skin grafts.

He still doesn't fully understand what happened that day.

"I'm constantly keeping him in front of the mirror to see if he will ask," Georgetta Jackson said. "He still won't ask, 'What happened?' or 'What's this?' To him, he feels like just a normal 2-year-old. He looks in the mirror -- that's all he sees is Tyler. He don't see no burns."

Contact staff writer Beth Burger at bburger@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6406. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/abburger.