Two Massillon firefighters honored for efforts to try to rescue 9-year-old girl

MASSILLON, Ohio - Massillon firefighters Tim May and Jimmy Swain were honored on Monday for their heroic efforts to try and save the life of a 9-year-old girl in November.

Firefighters were called to a burning duplex on 15th Street Southeast on Nov. 6.

It was about 2 a.m. and three members of the family were able to get out alive, but Anyiah Johnson, 9, locked herself in a second-story bathroom.

"I don't think there's any other word than gut wrenching. It was a terrible situation," said Massillon Fire Chief Tom Burgasser .

"There's a few calls in life that you remember and this is always going to be one of those for me because you know, as a mother and a grandmother, when you get that call that there's a child trapped, every bone in your body is screaming you want to help in some way," said Fire Inspector Tammy Wagner.

The two firefighters put a ladder up to what they thought was a boarded bathroom window, but quickly realized there were three layers of boards and framing between them and the trapped girl.

"He (May) literally, physically, you know, ripped it apart and then physically ripped those three layers off until he got through," Wagner said.

May was able to get to the girl and hand her off on the ladder to Swain.

Through the collective efforts of firefighters, police and medics, the girl was revived, but later died at an Akron hospital.

On Monday, State Fire Marshal Jeff Hussey recognized May and Swain for their work, in spite of the outcome.

"Not only were you trained and prepared, but you were willing to put yourself in harm's way and sometimes we take for granted the opportunity we have to change people's lives," said Hussey.

"That's what you guys did, is you gave that mom and that family every chance that night and that's incredibly important. And I don't think there's any other profession out there that gives us that opportunity," he added.

"We can't take that positive or negative outcome and make that the barometer by which we judge their actions. They all performed heroically that night," Burgasser said.

Neighbors who vividly remember the screams and the desperation of the girl's mother said they also believe the firefighters are deserving of the award.

"It's very well justified, they wasted no time. Everything was out on the table. They didn't leave anything behind," said Randy Harper.

"There was 30 people out here that tried to go in and they did. They went in and they got her, and I feel that deserves recognition," said Rebecca Whitner.

May and Swain declined comment, publicly thanking their colleagues and all safety personnel who were on the scene that night for their collective efforts.