What impressed Palm Coast Fire Chief and Interim Manager Jerry Forte about Flagler County Sheriff’s deputy Marcus Dawson–what caused Forte to call Dawson “heroic”–was the way the deputy immediately asked all the right questions and followed all the right procedures, then went beyond them, leading him to the 3-year-old hiding under a blanket in a bedroom, as a kitchen fire burned.
Dawson saved the toddler Sunday evening. Just as he was coming out of the house with the boy, Palm Coast Fire Department firefighters were moving into the house and the kitchen, dousing the flames and extinguishing the fire, which did not go past the kitchen.
“Just to put it in perspective,” Forte said, “you have a deputy who first gets on scene and asks all the right questions of the neighbors, goes behind the house, takes a quick look, tries to get attention from someone at the front door, doesn’t know if anybody is in the house, doesn’t get a response, yet is willing to open a sliding glass door and look to see what’s on the other side. That’s heroic behavior right there.”
Dawson’s body cam video and his own incident report capture the scene. He had immediately asked a neighbor of the house at 40 Weymouth Lane in Palm Coast how many people live in the house–“a family of three,” the neighbor told him, as the numerous sirens of approaching fire trucks and emergency vehicles blared in the distance. The neighbor had seen flames. The deputy swings from back porch to front door as he stays in contact with dispatch, including providing details of where the nearest hydrant was. He repeatedly pounds the front door and gets no answer. He goes back to the back porch.
“I observed a small fire on the stove that was spreading to the cabinets,” Dawson wrote. “I further observed thick black smoke filling the residence. I heard dogs barking at the sliding glass door of the rear bedroom.” He again called out. He walked in, the beeping from the fire alarms now audible. Video of the interior of the house is blurred in accordance with current law, but the voice of the deputy finding the child is clear: “Hi, buddy! Where’s your mommy?” the deputy asks the child. (“I saw a little head pop up. It was under the covers,” the deputy would later tell a fireman.)
“Where’s my mom?” the child asks.
“Where’s your mommy? Come with me,” the deputy tells him in a reassuring voice. “OK. OK,” the child says. As the pair walk out, firefighters are walking in. The deputy tells them where he found the child. Firefighters head in and conduct a search of their own. The deputy hands off the child to Firefighter-Paramedic Kalin Graham, and rushes back into the house with a fire department captain “to ascertain if anyone else was in the bedroom, which yielded a negative result,” he reported. (Graham in July was among the team of firefighters recognized for their own life-saving efforts when they and deputies pulled a suicidal teen off the Palm Coast Parkway overpass over I-95.)
The child’s 41-year-old father was soon back at the house. He explained to the deputy that he’d planned to take his toddler with him to get Chinese food. But the child was sleeping, and his stepson, a 17-year-old boy, was at the house, so he decided to leave them both and go to pick up the food. While he was gone, the 17-year-old boy left the house without telling his stepfather (he had no cell phone), apparently to “spend time with his biological father,” according to the report.
“I don’t know what the outcome was but it seemed the baby was fine” when he was treated by paramedics at the scene, Forte said. The fire chief said the deputy willingly took risks. “You don’t know the temperature of a house that’s filled with smoke and the deputy’s clothing is not what would be considered survivable for something like that,” Forte said.
Without Dawson “immediately running toward danger, even without a safety respirator, this could have been a much different outcome,” Sheriff Rick Staly said. “This child was hiding in fear of the fire and smoke watching a cartoon on his phone when, thankfully, [deputy first class] Dawson’s training in emergency response allowed him to find this child and safely rescue him. This was a dangerous situation and we are very proud of DFC Dawson’s bravery and commitment to serving this community and saving a life.”
All indications, Forte said, based on the preliminary investigation at the scene, pointed to a microwave malfunction. Aside from the damage to that area of the kitchen, the fire was contained.
Dawson has been with the Sheriff’s Office since 2016, and was a detective until just a few months ago. He is now in charge of a K-9 unit. His firefighter’s instincts are not out of thin air: he was previously a volunteer firefighter with the Flagler Beach Fire Department.