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The shift at Lincoln Fire and Rescue Station # 8 started off like any other for Shawn Mahler, the station captain who has worked for the agency for 26 years.

There is a message that Mahler stuck on a rail that supports the garage door of the station. Truck # 8 is parked below.

“This is not a dress rehearsal,” the message read, typed entirely in all caps. “We are professionals. And now is the big time.”

“It helps keep your feet on the ground,” the captain said of the recorded message about 8 feet above his head. “It helps give you a personal message: at some point in those 24 hours you have the chance to make a huge difference in someone’s life.”

And that’s what Mahler and his company did on November 2, responding to the smoky building just before 2 a.m., where, among five rescued residents, a family of four was sleeping soundly.

They had gone to bed around midnight, said Karrie Tobin, as they always did.

They had turned on a sound machine before surrendering, the ambient noise helping Karrie, her husband, Grant; and their 14-year-old son, Landon, are sleeping. Karrie’s sister, Shannon, was sleeping across the hall.

The smoke detector never rang. They were not woken up by the approaching sirens, nor by the floodlights invading the exterior windows. They did not hear Mahler and his company breaking into their third-floor unit as the hallway of the building filled with smoke.

Instead, Karrie only woke up when Mahler walked into the room she shares with Grant, dressed in full bunker gear, waking the family as a pot left on a stove burned a floor. lower.

“You think you are dreaming,” recalls Karrie. “He said, ‘You have to evacuate. There is a fire in the building.'”

So the family rushed to put on shoes and sweatshirts, leaving behind glasses, cell phones and two cats who at the time were hiding in a bedroom closet.

“Wow,” Landon remembered thinking. “It’s really scary.”

As they made their way to the front door of the apartment, the family’s evacuation became complicated.

Stairs were not an option. They would have to descend an extended ladder to the balcony on the third floor of the apartment – a heartbreaking challenge for anyone who wakes up at 2 a.m. For Landon, who has autism, escape seemed unlikely.

“We had to slow our process down a bit so he could figure it out,” recalls Battalion Commander Mike Smith.

As Mahler took a chair from the family kitchen table to use as a step over the balcony railing, Landon still hesitated.

Karrie described it bluntly: “He was shaking.”

Grant, 40, was the first to fall in an attempt to lure Landon off the balcony. Karrie, 44, followed, expecting Landon to follow.

By this time, Mahler had returned to the main hallway of the apartment, checking to see if the smoke had cleared, if the responders could be able to escort Landon up the stairs.

“He was still charred from the smoke,” Mahler said. “I just came back and said, ‘We have to go. And that’s the only way out of the building.'”

As he watched his family descend to safety, Landon thought only of one thing, he recalls.

And so he did, descending three story rungs of ladder as his family watched and waited, joining them on the floor.

Immediately after the escape, the family was engrossed in the issues that accompanied any evacuee, Karrie said.

“You’re just looking up and saying to yourself, ‘Can I still live here?'” She said. “Are all of my things going to be damaged by the smoke?” I still have my two cats in there, so you are wondering: what will happen to my cats? “”

Stakeholders helped the Tobins start answering questions that night, Karrie and Grant recalled. They recovered a pair of glasses, cell phones and insulin supplies, re-entering the smoky building “without a doubt,” Karrie said.

And the cats, she said, are doing well.

The family appreciates the team’s actions – both in their early rescue efforts and their post-rescue attention. So much so, in fact, that Karrie wrote a letter to Lincoln City Council congratulating the first responders for their response that evening.

“It was a terrible experience,” Karrie said. “But it couldn’t have been a better experience at the same time.”

For Mahler, the unit’s behavior is a product of Station 8’s business model, where he said responders are implored to treat citizens as paying customers, as each person saved is the grandmother of the firefighter.

The service of the unit – and the gratitude of the family – brought the Tobins to Station 8 on Monday evening, about three weeks after the November 2 fire turned their daily lives upside down, to meet and thank the responders. .

Mahler gave the family a tour of the fire engine they had reduced. They posed for photos and exchanged thanks. Landon, a video game fan and the Seattle Seahawks, was named an honorary member of Lincoln Fire and Rescue – a title that confirmed what his mother already believed.

“Who is my hero? She asked her 14 year old son.