“Mayday” is something no fire commander ever wants to hear. That call was issued Thursday as Omaha firefighters battled intense flames and smoke at the Hillsborough Pointe Apartments. While residents fled, firefighters did their job, went in and became trapped. Saturday, they talked about their close call.
Charlie Oborney was one of those firefighters. His assignment was to take a hose up with his partner to the third floor of the structure near 144th and Maple, but that's when the unexpected happened, the ceiling caved in.
“It is the heaviest weight I have ever felt. If we were more in the center of that we would have been underneath that and there's no way we would have lifted that up." Oborney was able to get up, but was separated from his partner. “You know it's a bad situation, but you just have to do what you have to do."
A mayday call went out to OFD Incident Commander Robb Gottsch. “I have never been more concerned for my subordinates than that minute right there. We are a very close-knit family and I want everyone to go home the next day."
Gottsch acted fast. A rapid intervention crew was sent in, their sole responsibility to rescue the trapped firefighters. In the meantime, Oborney found his way to a window. “I started waving and finally captain saw me, bring ladders up and was able to get out of the building."
At that point he also saw his partner on the ground safe, a relief for all involved and a reminder of how firefighters put their lives on the line every call.
It took firefighters three hours to finally get the fire out. Thirty residents were displaced, but no one was seriously injured. Preliminary reports indicate the cause of the fire was a carelessly discarded cigarette.