COLUMBIA – Tonia Turner was driving to Douglass Park with her daughter to meet her son for baseball practice on a May evening when she saw smoke coming down Fifth Street.
Once Turner rounded the corner, she saw that the house of a couple she has known for years was on fire. Her actions — and those of Columbia resident Ballagio Pinkett — earned them the title of "hero." Fire Chief Charles Witt recognized their bravery by presenting them with Citizen Heroism Awards at Monday's City Council meeting.
Witt said the award is "the highest honor" the Fire Department can give.
Recalling the evening of the fire, Turner said she "threw the car in park" when she noticed the burning house, then ran to the door of home. That's where she met Pinkett. The two entered the house to help an older man get out of the building.
Meanwhile, Turner's daughter, Deasia Turner, waited in the car and watched her mother run into the burning house.
"I honestly wasn't really scared," Deasia Turner said. "It was more that I couldn't believe that she did it."
Pinkett had been in the parking lot at Douglass Park, located behind the house, when he heard a loud explosion and saw fire coming from the back of the home. He called 911 and then ran to the house and kicked in the door. That's when Turner joined him; they split up to find the man.
After searching the house for a few minutes, Pinkett found the man. Turner met them on the way out, and she and Pinkett carried him outside.
"It was an experience I don't know how to explain," Pinkett said. "It was an adrenaline rush."
Turner said she didn't see the flames when she saw the smoke coming out of the building, but she said she would do it all over again.
"You don't think about that stuff," Turner said. "You just go in and try to do what you can."