Sandy Yeatts
Harry “Sandy” Yeatts, center, and other members of the Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Company, Brandon Jones, left and Adam Carter, right, responding to a call. Photo by P. Vankevich

By Connie Leinbach

Sandy Yeatts is one of those people who run into burning buildings when others are running out.

Yeatts, 44, a state-certified fire fighter and an EMT, was recently appointed as training officer for the Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Department.

“I’ve seen things that some of these guys have never seen,” he said about his 15 years of fighting fires and responding to emergencies in Courtney, Yadkin County.  “I can’t tell you how many burning buildings I’ve been in.”

And that’s why Yeatts is an added resource here. 

The number of major fires here in the last several years can be counted on one hand, but when they do occur, the volunteers have to be skilled.

“They need burning building training,” Yeatts said.

Coordinating the troops and working fire experience are crucial, Yeatts said.

The most recent structure fire was in December 2013 when a camper parked along Bryant Lane caught fire. 

The camper was totaled and OVFD members contained it from spreading to nearby houses.

While most fire companies around the country have training centers at which to practice dousing fires, the company on Ocracoke does not.

Yeatts is trying to find a building up the beach or on the mainland where the members can train.

In the meantime, he trains volunteers every other week in various aspects of fire fighting, such as using the hose, which is not the same as using a garden hose.

Yeatts said there are many aspects to using the hose: pulling it correctly off the truck, how strong the stream should be and even whether or not to use it at all depending on the type of fire.

Keeping emotions in check is a crucial part of being an effective firefighter.

In one of his first fires, he rescued a 4-year-old girl trapped in a burning building. Although she was revived at the scene, she died the next day in the hospital.

“That got to me,” he said, adding that he almost quit the fire department. “My son, Corey, was the same age. That really hit home.”

But, after a week of contemplation, he realized he needed to continue.

“Even though the outcome was not good, I helped the family,” he said.

This event made him respect the job more, and he has learned to look at the big picture.

“The rewards are being able to help people in need,” he said.

An electrician by trade and owner of Cool Creek Electric here, Yeatts received his emergency medical technician certification in 2002.

He also is employed by Hyde County as an EMT on the island.

Along with his wife, Deena, and son, the family moved to the island in 2013.

Yeatts and NPS Ranger Shane Bryan were the first emergency responders to attend to Andrew Costello, 67, of Wareham, Mass., who was bitten by a shark July 1 off the Lifeguard Beach.

Although lifeguards had already stopped the bleeding and bandaged Costello, when the EMS crew got Costello into the ambulance, they repacked the wound.

“I’ve seen a lot of trauma,” Yeatts said, “but that was probably the most vicious thing I’ve ever seen.”

Costello, who was flown by medevac helicopter to the Vidant hospital in Greenville, was released July 20.

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