CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The rescue effort was massive when 84 firefighters moved shattered pieces of a Ballantyne home by hand trying to save a couple trapped under the rubble after an explosion last week.
The area is still such a safety hazard that officials put up a fence around the perimeter of the leveled home, but if you look just beyond the fence, you can still see the pile of debris.
“It wasn’t until we actually arrived that there was that moment of, ‘Oh wow, this a whole different ballgame,’” said firefighter Matt Saraceno.
Some of the first responders opened up to Channel 9’s Anthony Kustura about the intense hours that followed the explosion.
Most of them have spent their entire careers training for something of this magnitude.
“The response is very ironed out and very choreographed and practiced ahead of time. That piece of the puzzle is put into play. In the right order, in the right spot,” said Saraceno.
They credit their training and tools that helped them in the frantic moments like a fire truck they call a "tool box on wheels." It’s equipped with everything from special listening devices to confined space cameras.
It’s what they used to dig Dr. Jebran Karam out of the rubble when he called for help from his smartwatch and guided rescuers to him.
“That helped tremendously, him being able to say, ‘I’m at this part of the pile,’” said firefighter Cody Whiteside.
To free him, they moved debris for nearly 2 1/2 hours in the sweltering heat while loaded up with gear.
“If we have a chance to make sure that we can get someone out and alive, of course we’re going to work harder and faster,” said firefighter Chris Cangemi.
“We made a basketball-size hole into an over 10-foot-diameter hole,” said Saraceno.
They had to clear enough space to ensure they wouldn’t hurt him, or cause any more damage to the area. From there, they loaded him onto a stretcher over a stream and through the woods at a nearby golf course where a chopper flew him to a hospital.
Sadly, the doctor's wife, Rania Karam, died in the explosion.
“It was a good day but sad day, too,” said Cangemi.
We asked the firefighters if they've had time to reflect on the day of the explosion. They said they have thought about what happened, and how it can help them do their job even better.
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