Fort Worth

Firefighter in house fire assumed boy was safe outside. Then he heard a faint whimper

Fort Worth Fire Capt. Bobby Washington Jr. didn’t expect to find a missing little boy in a blazing house on the city’s south side.

By the time he entered the home in the 5300 block of Whitten Street to search for 4-year-old Jullius, several other firefighters had already been inside, scouring the house’s bedrooms. When Washington walked into a far back bedroom, he assumed the boy would be found safe outside, simply not counted in the chaos of the Nov. 16 fire.

That’s when he heard a whimper.

“I could sort of see his silhouette standing there in the smoke as I came around the bunk bed,” Washington said. “I told him everything was OK, but he wouldn’t come to me, so finally I just had to grab him to get him out. I don’t know if he was scared of me, with the mask and everything, but he tried to fight me a bit.”

Washington brought the boy outside where he was treated by paramedics and taken to a local hospital.

He and a group of firefighters from Station 17, 5151 Hemphill St., were recognized this week at a Fort Worth City Council work session for their bravery. Fire Chief Jim Davis said it was a team effort to find the child.

“If you’re only concentrating on finding the child and not fighting the fire, things will only get worse,” he said. “Captain Washington is the kind of guy who when the bell rings is not only willing to put his life on the line but makes sure he’s successful.”

Jullius’ mother, Marian Abbs, said she couldn’t be more grateful to the firefighters who searched for her son.

As the family was rushing outside, Abbs said she knew Jullius wasn’t with them, so she began feeling around the smoke-filled house. She believes she spent 20 minutes in the home looking for her son.

“It was the longest time of my life. That smoke was so black and there was so much, I couldn’t see anything,” she said. “I wasn’t leaving without my baby.”

But she had to leave, coughing and wheezing. Washington met her and a Fort Worth police officer coming out of the house.

Although Washington, a nearly 30-year veteran of the department, has pulled adults from fires, this is the first time he has rescued a child.

He was surprised to find the child not only conscious but alert, he said, because oxygen in the room was rapidly dropping.

The fire began in the home’s garage, and although firefighters could see flames coming from the house, the blaze was contained to that part of the building. It was the best possible outcome, he said, because the home lacked smoke detectors.

The boy, and others in the home at the time of the fire, are doing well, Abbs said.

“He’s just full of life,” she said. “Bobby is my hero, my true hero.”

For Washington, it’s just a part of the job, one that runs in the family.

Washington followed in the footsteps of his father, Bobby Washington Sr., who retired as a captain in the early 2000s. Bobby Washington Jr.’s son, Roman, is a firefighter who has been assigned to Station 29 since 2014.

Bobby Washington Jr. joined the Fort Worth Fire Department at 19, he said, because he saw his father’s commitment and knew he could provide for his family while serving the community.

When Roman Washington first joined the fire department, Bobby Washington Jr. said he worried and kept tabs on the scanner for announcements about his son’s station.

“Finally I said ‘Bobby you got to let this go,’ ” he said.

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Luke Ranker covers the intersection of people and government focused on Fort Worth and Tarrant County. He came to Texas from the plains of Kansas, where he wrote about a lot, including government, crime and courts in Topeka. He survived a single winter in Pennsylvania as a breaking news reporter. He can be reached at 817-390-7747 or lranker@star-telegram.com.
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