ATLANTA - President Donald Trump is honoring Atlanta's first responders for their work with the I-85 bridge collapse. He will be meeting with the first responders in the Roosevelt Room in the White House.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and other city leaders gathered Wednesday morning to honor first responders for their heroic efforts during the Interstate 85 bridge fire and collapse last month.
“It is a privilege and an honor to be here today to recognize the brave women and man of the Atlanta Police Department and Atlanta Fire Rescue Department for their exemplary service during the I-85 bridge disaster,” Reed said at Atlanta City Hall.
Reed said thanks to the courage and professionalism of the first responders, no one was killed in the fire or resulting from the collapse of the bridge which carries more than 250,000 vehicles on a typical day.
"I think a great deal of the credit belongs to each and every one of you," said Mayor Reed.
A standing ovation followed.
The massive fire broke out around 6 p.m. on March 30 and caused a portion of the interstate to collapse, crippling traffic in both directions of the busy highway indefinitely.
Mayor Reed said when the fire first broke out, a group of about eight Atlanta police officers immediately investigated smoke and noticed the intensity of the blaze. Their team made a quick and critical decision to clear traffic.
Atlanta Fire Rescue firefighters then arrived on scene, but were pushed back by heavy flames and dark black smoke. They were able to quickly secure the scene and called for additional help.
Fire officials said they were able to pull all the firefighters out from under the overpass just before the collapse after noticing signs of fatigue in the structure. Firefighters also worked to keep the fire from spreading to a nearby Goodwill store.
Thankfully, no first responders were injured.
"There is no doubt in my mind that the quick response and split-second decisions of all of these officers saved countless lives," Reed said.
"You want heroes? In my opinion, we have a whole bunch of heroes with us in this room today," Mayor Reed told the first responders. "They are sitting right here, and that's why we want to honor you."
Reed said as mayor, it's comforting to know that the city of Atlanta can rely on the exceptional talent of Fire Chief Joel Baker, Police Chief Erika Shields and Assistants Police Chief Rodney Bryant.
"On behalf of a proud city and a grateful public, we want to say thank you and God bless you for your incredible work," Reed said.
Chief Baker then offered further praise.
“Guided by a duty to act, empowered by result-driven training and tactics, our members’ actions made a difference between tragedy and triumph. I take this time to say excellent job and thank you,” Baker said. “Your service, skills, tenacity and diligence was broadcast live for millions to se,e and I’m proud to serve with you .”
I-85 remains closed from I-75 to Georgia 400. Traffic is being diverted off at those points.
Crews continue to work around the clock to repair and rebuild the interstate. The Georgia DOT said the goal is to have I-85 open and running again by June 15.
"I think they're going at a record pace and I'm hoping this is a pace we can continue as we strive to restore and rebuild this important stretch of interstate," Governor Nathan Deal said last week.
According to DOT Commissioner Russell McMurray, three sections of the northbound lanes and three sections of the southbound lanes are being replaced.
"That's a total of about 350-feet northbound and 350-feet southbound that will have to be totally replaced," McMurry said. "That is no small feat, but we're up for the challenge."
Basil Eleby, 39, is accused of starting the fire under the I-85 overpass. He's charged with arson and is currently being held in the Fulton County Jail.
Eleby will have a superior court appearance next week.
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