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A firefighter reminisces about a girl he rescued nearly 30 years ago

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's Friday, which is when we hear from StoryCorps. When Los Angeles County firefighter Derek Bart was diagnosed with terminal cancer, he stepped into a StoryCorps recording booth to talk about how he wanted to be remembered. At that moment, he thought of someone else, an 8-year-old girl he'd rescued from a house fire in 1993.

DEREK BART: It was a cold, windy night. And the wind knocked the power out. And so they were using candles to see, and they went to bed. When we got there, the room I went to was fully involved with fire. So OK, if anybody is in here, they're unsurvivable. But I checked the next bedroom, which had bunk beds. So OK, children. Kids like to hide in the closet. They hide under the beds. They hide in the bathtub. So I looked across the hallway. And in a bathtub, I see this young girl. Her name is Myeshia. And I notice that her face and hands are burned. So I run there and grab her and throw her over my shoulders, go down the stairs. And it's one of those scenes where you just say, God, you know, please get me out of here. You know, this is horrible.

I considered going to the hospital, but it was too emotional. So I didn't go. But for years, I always wondered how Myeshia was. Twelve years later, I found myself in Walmart. And this girl walks by me. Her face and hands had obviously been burned. She has a name that says Myeshia. She says, hi. How may I help you? I say, if I get too personal, please stop me. But February 1993, I went in a fire, and I pulled out a little girl. And she starts crying. I'm crying. She says, oh, my God. That's me.

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INSKEEP: OK, we're not done. Don't cry yet because shortly after this recording, Bart learned he'd been misdiagnosed. He was going to survive. So he came back to StoryCorps, this time with Myeshia.

MYESHIA OATES: You actually remembered me, my name. And I was shocked because out of all the thousands of people throughout your career, you still thought about me. I was just curious to know, like, why me?

BART: When you're in the fire service, you see a lot of tragedy. And the people that are alive today - you always think about them. And you always want to know if they're OK.

OATES: You know, of course, I had some health issues. But I'm OK.

BART: You know, the image I have of you was somebody that was just determined to fight, to make it. I want you to know that you've carried me through some tough times. For that, I'm forever grateful.

OATES: I appreciate being able to be a part of that.

BART: Yeah.

OATES: It amazes me just to know that the memory from 30 years ago is still with you. And that means that a lot.

BART: You know, it was a brief moment that you and I had, our encounter back in 1993. But I hope you always remember how valued your are, that people care about you.

OATES: I thank you, and I thank God every day. I cherish this.

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INSKEEP: Myeshia Oates with Derek Bart. Their StoryCorps interview is archived at the Library of Congress. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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