CISCO — Luke Zimmerman of Monticello will not forget his first fire call any time soon.
The 19-year rookie firefighter for the Cisco Fire Protection District was fresh off writing a six-page paper for his Parkland College English class when the call came in at 12:53 a.m. Monday. A home owned by 83-year-old Patricia Ford had a blaze going strong in the basement, and she was trapped on the first floor of the two-story structure 2 miles north of Cisco.
Zimmerman was one of the first to arrive at the scene and was told by one of Ford's friends where she would likely be in the home.
"I went and grabbed the light, found her, talked to her briefly and realized I could not get her myself. By the time I got out, there were a group of guys who could go in," he said.
Fellow firefighters Cole Hunt and Mark Kaufman of the Cisco department and Doug Kirk of the Argenta-Oreana Fire Department went in and battled flames in the basement to take Ford out through the back of the home, near a landing that leads to the basement.
"We were very fortunate," said Cisco Fire Chief Ron Weishaar. "We saved the house, and it only spread upstairs to one place. So other than smoke damage, the first floor had little damage."
Ford was transported to Decatur Memorial Hospital. Her condition was not known, but Weishaar expected her to recover.
"It just goes to prove why rural departments need the training, because we get the large fires, too," added the chief.
Zimmerman, on the department for only three months, said he is glad he had at least one practice burn before Monday's call.
"I trusted the training I had, to stay low during the fire," said Zimmerman, a 2013 graduate of Monticello High School. "I did the same thing anyone would do."
And though he is majoring in agricultural business at Parkland, Zimmerman said, he might now be a fireman for life.
"I love it, and may be a volunteer the rest of my life, and may make a career out of it," he added.
Weishaar said the fire started in a room in the basement, then apparently flashed to another room. A cause is not yet known. About 40 firemen from Cisco, Argenta-Oreana, Cerro Gordo and Weldon fire departments were on the scene for about four hours.