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Sending A Signal

By Zach Giroux for The Island Eye News

Terry McKenzie

Terry McKenzie was heading back to his office at the Isle of Palms Water and Sewer Commission for a Zoom meeting one morning during the first week of September. He didn’t make it to the meeting on time.

While McKenzie was driving to his job at the island’s water company, where he’s worked for the better part of 30 years, he noticed a plume of smoke. At first glance he thought a homeowner was tinkering with their fireplace. He was mistaken.

Fortunately, McKenzie decided to trust his gut instinct and stopped his truck. He took a closer look and spotted flames shooting off the back porch in a resident’s backyard on Sparrow Drive.

As he approached the source of the smoke, McKenzie thought it was a grill but soon identified the cause of the fire. A gas generator with propane tanks had exploded.

 The generator was producing 10-foot high flames and was in the process of melting the porch and setting everything ablaze within its vicinity. McKenzie realized he didn’t have the luxury of time to call the Fire Department and wait for them to arrive, so he took matters into his own hands.

Within 10 minutes, McKenzie had managed to shut off the gas and extinguish the fire. He suspects the generator malfunctioned while doing an automated test.

“I’m just glad I was there. It could have been bad,” McKenzie said.

No one was injured, and the home was saved. There was only one other witness besides McKenzie.

Afterward, McKenzie went to speak with the homeowners but the only person there was a brother-in-law who was said to have special needs.

The brother-in-law thanked McKenzie for his courageous efforts, and then McKenzie hopped back in his truck and proceeded to the Zoom meeting.

 At least he had a valid reason for being late.

On Oct. 27, the Isle of Palms City Council virtually recognized McKenzie with the Signal 30 Award. “Signal 30” is an Isle of Palms Public Safety code for “citizen service.” 

The city created the award in 2002, and, since then, seven other people have received the honor, but none since Diane Oltorik in 2015. The others include Bill Pennington, Jeremy Argabright, Dylan Campbell, Matthew Smith, Jack Tracey and Alex Mason. The award is unique because it doesn’t just apply to residents but any individual who commits an act of valor for the betterment of the island.

 “My situation probably isn’t any different than any other recipient,” McKenzie added. “I was basically just in the right spot at the right time.” 

McKenzie recalled this not being the first time he’s put out a fire on the island. He remembered a few years ago a similar situation with a neighbor in need.

When asked if he has considered being a volunteer firefighter for the Isle of Palms Fire Department, he just smiled and emitted a lighthearted chuckle. It appears he is content with being a humble, community hero his neighbors can depend on.

An award ceremony will be held for McKenzie at a later date due to COVID-19 and social distancing protocols.

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