BONIFAY - Jimmy Best of Bonifay says he's "blessed to be alive" - and that he owes his life to some heroic private citizens and first responders.
Best was spending New Year's Day with his wife and two toddler grandchildren at the couple's State Road 177 residence in Holmes County when a fire began in the ceiling of the home's den.
As the blaze began to spread throughout the home, Best stayed inside to look for one of his granddaughters, not knowing that his wife, Terri, had already passed the child out of a window and into the waiting arms of Brandon Farmer, one of three private citizens who provided assistance.
Best, who became unconscious due to severe smoke inhalation, said he doesn't recall much of what happened next, only that the fire was first noticed by Holmes County EMT Brandon Justice as Justice was headed to work. Justice donned his gear and entered the home.
Justice was able to drag Best onto the bed, which was beside a window. Farmer was then able to grab Best and pull him back through the window, with Farmer's father-in-law, Roger Powell and another private citizen, Nick Wood, pulling on Farmer.
Also giving notable assistance at the scene were Holmes County Sheriff's Deputies Justin Smith and Dustin Reed.
Best, who was listed in critical condition after receiving burns in his mouth, throat, and chest due to swallowing fire, was first transported by helicopter to a trauma center in Panama City and then to Joseph M. Still Burn Center in Augusta, Georgia.
While in Augusta, doctors treated Best for burns to his corneas and used stem cells to treat burns on his face and arms
He was expected to stay at the burn center for two months but says he was able to return home with a grateful heart in just 19 days.
Holmes County Sheriff John Tate recently honored all six men who helped save the Best family with commendations for their bravery.
"Through their actions, Smith and Reed embodied the spirit of the Holmes County Sheriff's Office," said Tate. "We're not just here to make arrests; we are here to serve and provide for the safety of our citizens. EMT Justice did what we often take for granted, just doing what our firefighters and EMTs do every day - risk their lives for that of the people they serve. Finally, while Farmer, Powell, and Wood call themselves 'ordinary citizens,' they behaved with extraordinary bravery and helped save a life. These are the kind of people who make up the fabric of Holmes County."
State Representative Brad Drake also recognized the men with a signed proclamation in their honor.
None of the men responded for requests from Holmes County Times-Advertiser for comment - something that Best says only reinforces his summation of the their character:
"If not for them, I wouldn't be here today," he said. "They're true heroes."