Chattanooga firefighter Chris Blazek had been battling a house fire for three hours in 80-something-degree heat. Exhausted, he returned to the firehouse once the blaze was under control.
The moment Blazek jumped in the shower, a tone alerted a new emergency: a car crash involving a pregnant mother and her three kids.
“Hearing that makes your heart rate jump up a little bit,” said Blazek, 39, who stepped out of the shower and threw on his dirty clothes.
He and the other firefighters in his unit raced the two miles to the accident Saturday afternoon. When they arrived, the pregnant woman was hysterical and complaining of back and abdominal pain.
While the emergency crew put her in an ambulance, Blazek asked her permission to get her girls – ages 7, 4 and 4 months – out of the car. The older girls seemed fine, but the baby was shrieking full-throttle.
“Screaming bloody murder,” Blazek said.
Once he picked her up, she started to settle down. Blazek gave her a quick look-over to be sure she wasn’t injured, and the girl laid her head on his shoulder, he said.
“She just embraced me,” said Blazek, who has four young daughters of his own.
He made sure the other members of his crew had the rest of the situation under control, and he slid down to the ground with the baby in his arms.
“Me and my new friend decided to sit down and take a break,” he said.
Almost immediately, the girl fell asleep in his arms. He decided to take a moment to relax, as well.
“As soon as I got comfortable, she closed her eyes,” Blazek said. “She was out like a light.”
He didn’t know until later that another firefighter had snapped a photo — or that it would go viral on the Internet.
About 20 minutes later, the girls’ father and grandmother showed up and took the kids home.
The fire department posted the photo on its Facebook page Monday, describing what had happened. The post quoted Blazek: “It’s moments like this, that I am reminded, this is why I do the job.”
The pregnant woman, Whittley Hightower, was released from the hospital. She did not have serious injuries and her growing baby is fine, officials said.
She commented on the Facebook photo, saying: “I really want to say thank you for being there for my three girls. it was such a scary moment for all of us. God bless you.”
Blazek responded: “Mrs. Hightower it was an honor and privilege. Glad to know you and the girls are doing well.”
Blazek later said he wasn’t surprised that he was the one who helped the baby. With a degree from the University of Tennessee in child and family studies, he gravitates toward kids.
“Some of the guys don’t have children yet, so it tends to be me who goes to the children first,” he said. “To me, it’s second nature — the baby needed to be held and comforted and I was the guy to do it.”