HOUSTON, Texas (FOX 26) - A Houston Fire Department captain is attacked and stabbed as he attempts to rescue a man from a fire. Capt. Kenneth Willingham was taken into surgery on Friday morning after he was stabbed in the eye by a man he tried to save.
Firefighters arrived just before 2 a.m. Friday and found an air compressor enclosure had burned at Kwik Kar Lube & Tune on South State Highway 6 near Westheimer Road in west Houston. When firefighters heard a voice inside the enclosure, they used a sledgehammer to bust through the bricks. They found a man laying unresponsive in the small space.
Captain Willingham leaned into the hole to help, but the person inside pulled out a pocket knife and stabbed the fire captain in the left eye.
After Capt. Willingham was stabbed, it took Houston police officers 30 minutes to convince the man to come out of the burned out enclosure. The 34-year-old man, whose name hasn’t been released, was taken to the hospital after suffering smoke inhalation and is expected to be charged with aggravated assault of a public servant.
”We're all here for him for the long haul," says Marty Lancton, president of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association. "It just reiterates how dangerous our profession is and you never know when you go to work or your loved one goes to work what they're going to have to deal with.”
Captain Willingham, a 14-year veteran of the Houston Fire Department, is in stable condition after undergoing surgery. He has a brother and sister who are both also firefighters.
”Capt. Willingham is also a firefighter for the Sealy Volunteer Fire Department," explains Houston Fire Department Captain Ruy Lozano. "So he's a pretty incredible individual. He's a man dedicated to service.”
“He's a great person and a father," adds Lancton. "He's a husband.”
Why would a man stab someone who was trying to help him? Investigators are searching for a lot of answers including if the man went into the enclosure and set the fire, perhaps to try and stay warm. One thing is clear -- Capt. Willingham now has quite a recovery ahead of him.
”We just ask that everybody to keep their thoughts and prayers with him and his family,” adds Lozano. Friends and family say they are hoping for the best in regards to Willingham keeping his eye and his sight but they say it’s too soon to know for sure.