The volunteers of Firehouse 17

Home Features The volunteers of Firehouse 17
The volunteers of Firehouse 17

Nuavia Stewart

The Corsair.

“911, what’s your emergency?”

“There’s been a shooting at Pace and Godfrey there’s a woman laying on the side walk in a pool of blood,” a frantic Ray Johnson shouts.  “She can’t breathe. Please hurry up!”

Firehouse 17 located in West Pensacola, also well-known as the Brownsville area, gets the dispatcher’s call.

“Engine 17, we have a GSW (Gunshot wound) on Pace and Godfrey, unknown extensive injuries.”

The firefighters have two minutes to get suited, three to five minutes to get on the rig, get out the door, and find the location using a GPS [Global Positioning System].

“Is the scene secure?” asks one of the firefighters. “Yes the scene is secure” responds the dispatcher.

As Engine 17 arrives on the scene, the firefighters observe 41-year-old Terra Fountain Quarles lying on the sidewalk fatally injured in front of the convenience store she and her son Antwaun Green recently opened. On Monday afternoon, April 23, 2012, Joshua Levi Hilton, 33 entered the store armed with a gun and determined to rob the store. During the robbery, Quarles pulled out a gun of her own and fired at Hilton, hitting him. Hilton also fired his weapon, hitting Quarles. When the shooting ended, Quarles lay dead on the sidewalk and Hilton fled the store only to collapse with $25 in one hand and a gun in the other.

Terra Fountain Quarles worked alongside her son, Antwaun Green, at the small AC Grocery they opened at the end of last year in the shopping strip of Pace Plaza in Brownsville.

In just a short period, Quarles developed a reputation as a thoughtful woman who often times gave away groceries to those in need.

Green struggles to cope with the death of his mother. “She was a good lady,” a grief-stricken Green, 25, said. “It should not have happened to her. My motivation, everything I did in life, I did for her.”

He said his mother moved from Atlanta last November to help prepare the store for a successful opening.

Ray Johnson owns a rim shop across the street from Pace Plaza and was the last to speak to Quarles as she lay dying. Johnson said Quarles and her son just wanted to make a decent living and at the same time give something back to the community.  Johnson said Quarles was such a nice woman and didn’t deserve to die like that.

“She is a business woman, a sweet woman, a pillar of the community,” he said. “She gave away groceries. If you wanted something, she was giving it to you. If you didn’t have the money, she would let you come in and get the stuff, and she would let you come in and pay later. How many people you know that can do that?”


The shooting happened in Brownsville, an area known for shootings, prostitution, and heavy drug activity.

Shanda Golston, 31, left a card and a candle. She has never been in the grocery store but often goes to a nail shop at Pace Plaza.

Golston said crime here is like big cities; there are robberies and murders and shootings happening every other day.  Still, she considers it very daring of Hilton to try to rob the store during the day with so many customers coming and going.

The Volunteers of Firehouse 17

Chief John Crispin is one of three chief firefighters who serve the Brownsville area of Pensacola. Crispin has been volunteering as a firefighter for 17 years. He has seen his share of tragedies like the case of Quarles.

“Dealing and coping with the stress. It’s hard,” Crispin said. “You get off a bad call like this one, and you got kids of your own, you just want to sit there and hold them.”

The Firehouse of West Pensacola is a volunteer fire house; there are 28 men and women who volunteer as servant firefighters for the West Pensacola district.  Firehouse No. 17, also known as the “Brownsville Express,” takes a lot of the medical calls as first responders when the Emergency Medical Service (EMS) lines are backed up.

Jay Saunders, 26, has been a volunteer firefighter for 8 years. He says although fighting fires is their bread and butter,  they also get calls ranging from the typical belly ache to life-threatening calls like a child going into cardiac arrest.

“The most challenging situation I walked into was a baby who was a month old, she was premature, she went into cardiac arrest,” Saunders said. “She was bleeding from her ears and her nose.  In my head she was gone! I didn’t think there was any more we could do.

“Dealing with death and saving someone’s life is hard. It takes a special kind of person to do this.”

All in a day’s work

Many of the firefighters who serve at the volunteer station attend school or have full time jobs, but they still find the time to serve their community.

Most crews are 24 hours on and 48 hours off,” Saunders said. “Then you have guys who work 24 hours on and 24 hours off two days a week.”

Fighting fires and rushing to the aid of those in need of medical assistance are not all that the volunteer station does. Chief Crispin says there’s a lot of work to be done in the neighborhood.

“We check hydrogen [tanks] to make sure they are operable,” Crispin explains. We make sure nobody’s stuck any toys inside of them; that does happen quite a bit.”

Crispin also says they “pre-fire plan” businesses, so if they ever have to put out a fire they know exactly what’s stored inside the business and what the building is made of. Crispin says this general information plays an important factor in case there is a fire.

“It gives us a time frame of a collapse,” he explains, “and if the fire should be fought from the inside or the outside.”

Terry Define, 21, the newest member of the unit, has been volunteering with the Brownsville Express firehouse for about 3 years. He says what he enjoys the most about being a firefighter is the adrenaline rush.

“Well just think about it,” Define said. “ If you’re just sitting around watching a movie and all of a sudden you hear the tone for a structure fire it’s kind of a good rush that goes through your body.”

He says rookies go through a lot of minimum hazing.

“They shoot the fire extinguishers at you,” he says with a somber look on his face. “You have to carry the most hose, you’re like the little do boy, anything that has to be done you gotta go do it. Rookies are the ones that get picked on.  That’s the way it is.”

As the shift comes to an end, the Brownsville Express survive to serve another day. Saunders says although it’s a beast of a job somebody has to do it.

“It’s not like I’m a glorified hero, because I’m not,” Saunders said. “I’m just doing something I signed on the dotted line I said I would do.”


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