ST. SIMONS ISLAND, GA. | It was Sunday afternoon and the TV was on in Todd Thompson’s living room. There was a lot to watch, PGA golf, some pre-season football, home improvement shows and infomercials on everything from magic cooking devices to new workout programs to take off the weight from using the magic cooking devices.
Thompson opted for something related to his job and to the chest sitting open on the floor. The big screen showed scenes from Houston, cars, trucks and people in water deepening as the rain still poured while helicopters pulled people off the roofs of houses with water up to the eaves.
He was packing gear into the chest getting ready for a call to go to Houston, Rockport or other areas flooded by Hurricane Harvey. A firefighter, Thompson is head of Glynn County’s water rescue team.
“We’re preparing in case we get deployed,” he said.
Should the call come, the team would tow its boat west, launch it into the flood and go about helping people to safety, a little different from their typical river and ocean rescues.
If you’re trapped somewhere and you see a rescue boat coming, it would be a good thing if Thompson were standing in the bow. Thompson just competed in the 2017 World Police and Fire Games in Los Angeles and the masters division of the CrossFit competition. He finished sixth in his age group and won a weight-lifting competition. He is ranked 104th in the world in the CrossFit rankings.
That seems like a big number until you consider that’s out of 25,000 competitors.
“I’m happy to be in the top .005 percent in the world,” he said.
He’s also a happy family man with a 10-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son.
He can work out anytime he wants. When he’s not fighting fires, he is often at CrossFit Grit, the affiliate “box” he owns on St. Simons Island. His fitness is also work related. He went to school to be a Department of Natural Resources conservation ranger but, as he puts it, fell into firefighting.
“I’ve been with them 15 years,” he said of the Glynn County Fire Department where he drives an engine at a St. Simons Island station.
He wasn’t long on the job when there was a call to a big one, a 67-year-old beach house had caught fire and the flames had spread to a neighboring house and a three-story condominium. Structures are jammed tight on the beach, and Thompson was one of the firefighters between two burning buildings spraying water upward as flaming pieces raining down.
“I thought I was fit. I played lacrosse in college. I had been a lifeguard,” he said. “I was young.”
He surely was fit by comparison, and the department has a fitness program. But wanting more, he jumped into training with a vengeance, and it’s paid off.
When it comes to competition, he acknowledges he doesn’t have the speed of other competitors, but he is strong as his weightlifting win shows. That came in handy when the fire department got a call to the St. Simons Island lighthouse a few months ago. A woman had climbed to the top carrying a child and passed out.
Thompson was one of those who raced clockwise up corkscrew stairs 104 feet to the top.
“She was unresponsive,” he said.
A Coast Guard helicopter could have maybe lifted her off, as they have plucked people off housetops and out of the water in Houston, but that would require a flight from Savannah. And there was no way firefighters could negotiate that steep, iron staircase with a woman strapped to a gurney tilted at a 30- to 45-degree angle at least with any speed. So Thompson did the most simple thing: He hefted her body over a shoulder and carried her down all 169 steps.
Even when he finds a normally sized person, of which there are precious few anymore, it’s hard because the human body wasn’t created to be carried. Besides, 911 is seldom called for skinny people.
“You’re not going to find a 100 pounder that needs assistance,” he said. “Our medical calls are 200- to 300-pound people on the floor and can’t get up.”
That’s why you hope Thompson or someone like him comes through the door.
So he keeps moving, doing reps to build his strength. This man who heads a river rescue team uses a water analogy to explain why he keeps at it.
He can’t remember who said it, but someone did: “Rivers don’t get sick because they’re moving. Ponds get sick.”
He finished his Sunday afternoon, a day when others were resting, packing his kit getting ready should the call come to move.
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