JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Two Jacksonville firefighters stabbed by a patient in their ambulance are back on the duty and speaking about the ordeal for the first time.
Three and a half months after a violent attack, Capt. Latorrence Norris and Engineer Vincent Harper said they were dangerously close to losing their lives at the hands of someone they were trying to help.
The Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department partners, assigned to Rescue 2 in Springfield, were taking a patient to the hospital in October when they said he started attacking them.
The patient, whom the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office identified as 38-year-old Tony Harris, grabbed a box cutter from Norris and began to stab him with it, the firefighters said. First responders often carry box cutters or knives on emergency calls, in case they need to free someone from a seat belt or a rope.
Norris and Harper said the incident, which happened the evening of Oct. 8 near UF Health hospital, started as a medical call at a nearby apartment complex, where a man complained he was feeling sick and wanted to be transported.
For the veteran rescuers, it seemed fairly routine.
“It looked like a guy having some pain,” Norris said. “He was not being agitated or anything like that.”
But the partners would soon be in a fight for their own lives as they approached the hospital.
“Rescue 2,” said a winded Norris on an emergency radio call for help. “Send JSO. I got one injured. Immediately.”
Norris was bleeding badly in the back of this ambulance. He described it as similar to a “murder scene.”
“We were a couple blocks from the hospital. That’s when he pretty much flipped out,” said Norris, who explained the patient stood up on the stretcher, became irate and then grabbed his box cutter from his pants.
Norris said the man slashed and stabbed him several times. Harper was driving the ambulance but pulled over when he saw and heard the struggle.
“I put it in park. I jumped out and came around back and jumped in,” Harper recalled.
“We told him, ‘Hey, just drop the knife. When the cops get here, they’re going to shoot you if you don’t drop the knife,” Norris said. “And he basically said he did not care. He mentioned something about killing everybody, even the cops.”
By that time, Harper had stepped in to help his partner with the fight.
“I was on (Harris’) back, trying to choke him and find the knife at the same time,” Harper remembered. “And I grabbed the wrong arm thinking it was in the other hand. And he bucked off of me and came with the razor knife and came across my leg.”
Eventually, the firefighters said, the attacker fell in a wheel well and the firefighters are able to pin him down until police and other rescuers arrived as backup.
“I climbed out the back and saw that I had a serious laceration right here and right here,” Norris said, pointing to his upper chest and abdomen. “And it ended up being a collapsed lung with significant blood loss.”
A UF Health security officer, Air Force veteran Davay Kinsey, heard the commotion and drove her golf cart to the ambulance. She put Norris in the cart to rush him to the nearby hospital, where a trauma team was waiting. The teamwork likely saved Norris’ life.
If his partner hadn’t hopped in, “I would be dead right now,” Norris said. “There’s not a doubt in my mind.”
“He would’ve done the same for me,” Harper replied. “I think anybody on the department would’ve done the same for anybody else.”
Norris spent six days in the hospital in serious condition. Harper was released hours after the incident. Both have scars.
The two are not just colleagues at JFRD, but longtime family friends. They are now even closer.
Last week, JFRD Chief Keith Powers named Harper firefighter of the year -- an honor he’s happy to share.
“The award I have right now -- (Norris) deserves the same thing too,” Harper added. “It’s half his award, too.”
As of Monday, Harris remained in the Duval County jail more than $1 million bond. According to Duval County court records, he faces two counts of attempted murder and one count of resisting law enforcement.
Both injured firefighters said the job is dangerous, but they will continue working for JFRD.
“Best job ever,” Norris said. “Family atmosphere -- We’re not only colleagues. This is a friend of mine.”
Norris is back working at Station 2. Harper is recovering on duty at JFRD headquarters, but he hopes to be back on the road soon.
They said they are thankful for everyone who helped and supported them during their recoveries.