Hackleburg police officer discovers house on fire, saves lives

Hero Hackleburg Police Officer Zach Booth (far right) is shown with police chief Kenny Hallmark (far left) and Lynn Albert Barnette, 72, the homeowner he helped get out of the burning structure, along with Barnette’s granddaughter and friend.

By Kathryn “Chazz” Hirschfeld
Staff writer
HACKLEBURG — Hackleburg Police Officer Zach Booth is a hero. He will star in this news article, and he could easily be written about by a screenwriter and have his own movie.
While on routine patrol around 1 a.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 27, Booth noticed a residence on fire in the Crestview Heights neighborhood in Hackleburg.
“It could have been very different,” said Hackleburg Mayor Darryl Colburn. “After Zach noticed the house on fire, he went to check it out, which anyone would do--officer or not--to make sure nobody was home or in the house.
“After he investigated, he realized there were three people in the home. Lynn Albert Barnette, his granddaughter, Emily Barnette, and a friend of Emily’s.
“I don’t want it to sound like a superhero story, but he got two young adults out and a gentleman who’d previously had a stroke. Zach got him out of the house in his wheelchair while the house was engulfed in flames.
“So, had he not been on patrol, and paying attention to his surroundings while out and about, that could have been three lives lost right there.”
The mayor noted he was sharing the story so others can learn of the officer’s heroic actions.
“We’re just wanting to commend officer Booth and get him some recognition for saving three lives and doing his job to an extreme degree of what is expected,” Colburn said.
“Not just as public servant, but as a human being. He is a young officer--so having the courage and being brave enough to go into the house and clear it and get the people out of it--that speaks very highly on his character.”
The mayor noted Booth is quite humble and not the kind to look for recognition.
“To him, it wasn’t a big deal,” he said. “It was something everybody would do. And we would like to think everybody would do that. But in reality, how many people will run into a burning house?
“To me, he’s a hero. He’s a very high example of the oath officers take to serve and protect. We’re super proud of him and think he ought to be recognized as much as he can be.”
Colburn said he was trying to put into motion a way for representative Tracy Estes and senator Garland Gudger to have a resolution passed in Booth’s honor, allowing him to be recognized on the floor of the house and the senate.
‘It’s terrifying
to think of’
The Journal Record was also able to speak with Ashley Cantrell, Emily’s mother, regarding what happened.
“I’m so grateful they’re okay,” she said. “I feel like by the time the fire department had gotten there, the smoke would have killed them before too much longer. It’s terrifying to think of. I’m very grateful for the officer. He’s a standup officer. He went out of his line of duty.”
Emily, 18, is a senior at Hackleburg High School. Her mother said she had a friend staying over to help her take care of her grandfather, who’d had a recent stroke. Lynn is unable to walk on his own.
Cantrell said Emily told her she was awakened in the night by the flashing lights of the patrol car outside. When she opened her bedroom door, she was unable to see anything due to the smoke in the hallway and fell.
“She said she didn’t know at first if she could get up,” Cantrell said.  

 ‘It all happened
really fast’
Speaking with Booth, we asked him what made him go down that particular road at that exact time, specifically if he felt there was a higher power involved in helping him save the lives of Emily, her friend and her grandfather.
“Definitely God,” he said. “I 100 percent felt led to go down that street. Usually, about 1 in the morning, I don’t usually go down that specific road at that time.
“I had actually debated stopping at the department and getting a bite to eat, but I told myself I was going to wait and ride around real quick. And I just saw the fire. At first, I thought it was a bonfire.”
After taking a closer look, Booth quickly pulled into the yard and dispatched the local fire department.
“They responded very fast,” he said.
Before they arrived, Booth said he went and banged on the front door for a couple of minutes.
“Emily finally came to the door, and I walked in,” he said. “I explained it to her what was happening, but she could see the fire as she walked to the door.
“I’d been to the house on a previous medical call, so I knew the older gentleman had suffered a stroke and was kind of disabled. He was in the back, so while they were quickly getting ready, I got him out in his wheelchair.
“When I first got there, the house wasn’t too bad on fire, but while we were in there, as soon as we opened the door, the kitchen kind of took off. The power had also gone out, so it was hard for everybody to see. It all happened really fast.”
Booth noted he was wondering how he’d get Lynn off the porch in the wheelchair.
“Luckily, the neighbor, Virgil Adams, came and helped me,” Booth said. “He was at the door, as soon as I came out and helped me get Mr. Lynn off the porch.”
Shortly after his rescue of the home’s inhabitants, Booth also assisted the firefighters on the scene, helping to hook up hoses and get water to those needing it to combat the fire.
As he works the night shift, he is considering obtaining some cross training with the fire department, just in case his help is needed again.
Booth, 24, celebrated his one year anniversary of being on the police force in January. He graduated from Gordo High School, but has lived in Hamilton for some time. He is also a veteran, and served four years in the U.S. Air Force.
He noted his parents are very proud of him. His mother is Melissa Pritchett of Gordo. His father is Jeremy Booth, who owns I-Deal Fitness in Hamilton with his wife, Tanya. Jeremy also served as police chief in Hackleburg for a few years.
Zach ended his interview by noting, “I feel like any officer in Marion County, when faced with the same situation, would have done what I did.”

‘I feel very lucky’
Lynn has no hesitation sharing how he feels about what happened.
“He saved my life,” he said. “He is definitely a hero. I’m in a wheelchair. He’s the one who got us out.
“I feel very lucky. I had a stroke in January, and I don’t have the use of my right arm. And I can’t walk without being held up. I need somebody to stay with me. Right now, my son is helping, but he’ll have to go back to work soon.”
Lynn said he feels greatly blessed Booth was able to save his life, along with his granddaughters and her friend.
“I have friends and family who didn’t make it to 72,” he said.
Lynn grew up in Montgomery, but moved to Hackleburg in his early 20s. He worked at 3M in Guin for many years.
He said he’s not sure how the fire started, but he thinks it may have been electrical-related. The fire is still under investigation. He said he did have smoke detectors in the home, but perhaps the batteries had run out, as they did not go off.

‘Exact epitome...’
Hackleburg Police Chief Kenny Hallmark said the outcome of the rescue by his officer “has been a good deal and the exact epitome of what his department strives toward.”
“It’s what we want,” he said. “It’s what we try to do. These are the types of officers we hire. We want to be a police department that serves its people. The law enforcement side is just a small part of what a police department does.
“Nobody sees that guy who is just riding around, patrolling at night. But that’s what a police department is supposed to do. When they lay their heads down at night, the citizens of the town should feel safe knowing their police department is riding around and checking on their well-being.
“Whether that’s keeping someone from breaking into their house, or in this case--their house is on fire and they’re asleep and don’t know it. Zach was on routine patrol, doing what he was supposed to be doing.
“He saw the fire and was able to stop and alert those people and get them out, and they had no idea. That is what we try to strive to do, keep 24 hour coverage there, so people can lay down at night and feel safe.
“We may not always be there when tragedy strikes them, but we will be there in a timely response and try to take care of their needs.”
Regarding his department’s recent hero, Kenny noted, “Zach is a good learner. He listens, and he’s bought into what we’re trying to accomplish. I’ve actually had two exceptional hires lately, both Zach and Logan Hayta. They’re great examples of public servants, caring for the community, which is what we want.
“From arresting people to saving them from a burning house, Zach and Logan both are really showing what we want--being out there, policing the community and finding out what is really needed.
“We’re proud of Zach. We’re pleased with what he’s done.”

‘They were all asleep’
Hackleburg Fire Chief Steve Hood agreed the story about the Barnette fire could have turned out completely different than it did.
“No doubt about that,” he said. “If it wasn’t for the police officer doing his job in patrolling, I strongly believe all three of those individuals would have died in the fire, possibly from smoke inhalation.
“He had them out by the time we got on scene. The way I understood it, they were all asleep and didn’t even know the house was on fire.
“I’m glad he was out doing his job. He’s a real good guy. He is young, and he’s fresh out of academy, but he’s very serious about his job.”
Hood said there were three units that responded from the Hackleburg Volunteer Fire Department, with a dozen firefighters on the scene. Assistance was also provided by the Shiloh and Bear Creek volunteer fire departments.
The chief noted the structure did flare back up a couple of times.
“With the way the wind was blowing the last couple of days, it was inevitable,” he said. “It wasn’t a matter of if, but when. It was going to do it sooner or later.
“We appreciate all the help from the surrounding departments.”

‘Got out with only the clothes I had on’
Regarding ways the public can assist the Barnette family, some of their needs include a new wheelchair, besides clothing and everyday necessities.
“I was barefoot and got out with only the clothes I had on…

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