BUTLER — Police Chief Jim Nichols and Patrolman Adam Watts remember the events of Jan. 30, 2018 very clearly.
That was the day they, along with several Butler residents and neighbors, teamed up to rescue an unconscious Barbara Mynatt from the second floor of a burning building.
Nichols, Watts and Mynatt will be featured in an upcoming episode of ABC’s docu-reality series, “Hearts of Heroes.” An air date for the episode has not been announced.
The fast actions of Nichols and Watts and the residents meant the difference between life and death for Mynatt.
While several people and a dog escaped the second-floor apartment, Mynatt was overcome by smoke and hung partially out the window.
Before firefighters could arrive, her rescuers found a homemade ladder in the alley of the now-demolished downtown building. They pushed a nearby trailer closer so they could put the ladder on top of it to reach the window.
Nichols scrambled up the ladder, followed by Watts. Battling intense smoke, Nichols was able to pull Mynatt from the window and down the ladder to safety.
Simply put, it was a matter of people being in the right place at the right time, a lot of luck and some divine intervention.
“We talk about it quite often, how lucky we were, that everything that could have went wrong, went right,” Nichols stated.
“How we got that lucky, I have no idea. In police work, they say you revert back to your training. We don’t receive training in situations like this like firemen do, but it was definitely a situation where you evaluate it and you take action immediately.
“In my mind, Barb had about two minutes left to live before that smoke would have overtaken her or the flames would have been coming out of that window had we not gotten her out of there in time,” Nichols said.
“It was just fortunate that the trailer was right there, the ladder was right there against the building, and it all just came together,” Watts said.
“It just had to happen that way for her to live. It was just moments — less than a minute I would say — that the alley filled with smoke after we got her down.”
“I was having a hard time when I was trying to pull her out of the window. The smoke was overtaking me,” Nichols recalled. “I could barely breathe, and I was really scared I wasn’t going to be able to get her out.
“The thick, black smoke was just pouring out of the window into my face,” he said. “I was just worried we weren’t going to be able to get her out of the window in time.
“It does choke me up a little bit when I think about it,” Nichols said. “I did ask God to help me, to give me the strength to get her out of the window.
“Quite honestly, it was only a couple of seconds after I said that, that it seemed like she just popped out of the window right onto my shoulder.”
Initially, Nichols thought that Watts had climbed the ladder and helped pull her out. Instead, he was behind Nichols and helped guide them down the ladder.
“I really couldn’t help much because he was at the top of the ladder,” Watts said. “I was just kind of watching and seeing the smoke in his face.
“I was praying that we needed it get her out,” he continued. “My fear was he wasn’t going to be able to get her out or that the ladder was going to break, and we were going to fall about 20 feet.”
Several people, including Mynatt and Nichols, suffered from smoke inhalation. Mynatt and Nichols were hospitalized for a time following the fire, but made full recoveries.
“You just can’t prepare for something like that,” Nichols said. “You go to work and think you’re going to have a normal day.
“It’ll be nice that our story can be told and to let the public see some of the things police officers do besides making traffic stops and writing tickets,” he said. “They’re out there putting their life on the line to help save people every single day somewhere.”
“Police are involved in rescues and saving people’s lives,” Watts said. “It’s nice that people get to see that instead of all the negative stuff that’s out there.”
“If that trailer hadn’t been there, I’m not sure what we would have had time to come up with prior to the flames coming out of the window,” Nichols said.
“I have seen Barb a few times, and we’ve always shared and talked about it,” Watts said. “I’m just happy the way that day turned out. I’m proud of the chief for going up the ladder, and I’m happy we were able to get her out.
“Nobody got hurt, and that’s the best you can hope for.”
Nichols plans to retire this year after spending 29 years in law enforcement. “Being able to save one person’s life made all 29 years worth it,” he said.
“I knew I as chief had set a good example for my officers,” Nichols added. “I didn’t hesitate to go up the ladder, and I want them to see that when you get in a situation like that, the difference between success and failure is your bravery, your courage and what you can come up with, how you can overcome the obstacles to accomplish the mission.
“You do whatever you have to do to make it happen, and that’s the way it was that day,” he said. “We did everything we had to do to make her rescue happen.”