Father honored for volunteering after tragedy

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 22, 2010

“No one would have thought anything of it if he had walked away,” Bovina firefighter Johnathan Priddy said of Thomas “Trey” Smith III who returned to volunteer fire service only weeks after losing his children to an inferno that engulfed the family home last spring.

Priddy said the return to community service by the assistant chief of the Culkin volunteer department in the face of his own tragedy showed he is a “true hero.”

Smith doesn’t agree. “I do not consider myself by any means a hero,” he said .

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On May 17, flames swept through Smith’s home as he, his wife, Jennifer, and two boys, Tyler Daniel Smith, 4, and Hadyn Anderson Smith, 22 months, slept.

The parents were awakened by the smoke and escaped when Smith kicked an air-conditioner out of a bedroom window. Despite desperate attempts to re-enter the home, the firefighter of nearly 14 years could not reach his children who died of smoke inhalation in their room.

“Sometimes it feels like it happened yesterday,” their mother said. “Sometimes it feels like a year. It depends on what day it is.”

Priddy said he nominated Smith for the Firehouse Magazine 2009 Heroism & Community Service Award because Smith had returned to service almost immediately after his own sacrifices. The award highlights the bravery of firefighters across the nation, and Smith was named with 12 others.

“I believe people in the fire service should look at him as a role model — as a leader,” Priddy said.

Smith, 30, said all volunteer firefighters deserve more recognition.

“As volunteers, we’re not always in the spotlight,” he said. “This tells us that our job at the fire department means something. I think that was his (Priddy’s) motive behind it.”

Priddy said he finds Smith’s honor encouraging.

“To see someone I consider a little person, a regular person, receive national honor lets you know people get recognized,” Priddy said, noting the recognition comes from merit rather than being wealthy or famous.

During the attempt to rescue his children, Smith received burns and abrasions. He and his wife, a 26-year-old coding specialist for The Street Clinic, were treated at University Medical Center in Jackson for smoke inhalation.

The couple returned to the property weeks after the fire with mixed feelings about not having the whole family together in a new manufactured home. Wednesday afternoon, Jennifer said she has grown to love it along with the two new dogwood trees planted in the yard.

Warren County has a network of volunteer fire departments that respond to alarms outside Vicksburg’s corporate limits. Firefighters are dispatched through the city-county dispatch center.

Contact Tish Butts at tbutts@vicksburgpost.com