THONOTOSASSA, Fla. (WFLA) — For a few seconds last May, the thought briefly flashed through Karen McGinnis’s mind.
“Am I going to lose my only son?” the Thonotosassa mother wondered to herself.
Through the Hillsborough County Fire Rescue investigation and body camera footage from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s deputies, a chronology of the night took form.
After McGinnis and her son went to bed, she woke up around 10:30 p.m. to the smell of smoke and the ringing of fire alarms. She made it out of her former house in Seffner and raced to Owen’s window.
“It was very traumatic, it was shocking, you can’t think straight,” McGinnis recalled. “Owen was trapped in his bedroom. We couldn’t get him out.”
Thankfully, two sheriff’s deputies were nearby and saw the alert. They raced over, smashed the glass to the window and pulled Owen out. He suffered second and third-degree burns but made a full recovery. The investigation revealed an electrical fire in the barn spread to the house.
McGinnis can’t watch the body camera footage to this day.
“Thank God, because they were able to safely rescue Owen out of his burning room,” McGinnis said. “Seconds before he perished in that fire.”
Friday, for the second time in her life, firefighters came to her new home. But not to put out a fire — to prevent one in the first place.
“This outcome, within seconds,” said Tammy Zurla. “Could have been completely, completely different.”
Zurla is a fire marshal with the fire department. A few members of the department visited McGinnis’s new home. They checked her old fire alarms, installed a new one, taught Owen how to open the windows, and provided other fire safety tips and tricks.
“So many times, when you all are talking to us, it’s a bad story, and it’s a bad outcome,” Zurla said, referring to the news media. “This is one of those, when you leave here, you’re not only thankful for what you do, you’re thankful for so much and thank God they were spared.”
Along with some peace of mind, Owen got a real firefighter’s helmet and a bunch of pens, pencils, and other fire department trinkets.
“Feels pretty good,” Owen said. “Because now I know my home’s safe.”
But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t think about the fire.
“I know I’m safe,” Owen explained. “But I’m worried about it. Like, every single day.”
And to this day, McGinnis keeps a hammer in Owen’s bedroom. Just in case.