COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - About 10 years ago, Jesse Bussey was down on his luck.
"I was in a bad relationship," he said. "I had split up with a few of my friends and things like that."
A friend told him to take some of that pain off his mind by becoming a volunteer firefighter, and that's what he did. Eventually, he signed on as a volunteer firefighter in Couchton, a small town between Aiken and Wagener.
Bussey fell in love with firefighting and met a man who changed his life: Greg Bailey, a more senior firefighter there, took Bussey and other young firefighters under his wings.
"He's an amazing person. He's very knowledgeable. He's an amazing guy to work for," Bussey said.
Eventually, Bussey loved the craft so much he signed on for a paid gig at Columbia Fire Department. Each shift, he commutes from Aiken. He still lives there, and he still serves as a volunteer firefighter at Couchton, too.
"It's not just a job. It's not just a career. It's a calling," the firefighter said. "When you can go to work every day and not dread going to work -- sometimes I dread the drive more than I do the actual work."
Ten days ago, Bussey's relationship with Bailey, who's now an assistant chief at Couchton, changed. They were walking together over the Ravenel Bridge in Charleston as part of an annual walk to remember the hundreds of firefighters who gave all on Sept. 11, 2001.
Bussey said things were going well on the walk. He and Bailey had made it from Downtown Charleston to Mount Pleasant. They rested and had a snack. Then, they turned around to head back.
Their carefree conversation stopped. Bailey got dizzy. His eyes rolled back. He collapsed into Bussey's arms. Suddenly, Bussey was forced to save his friend, colleague, and mentor. As color faded from Bailey's face – his lips purple – Bussey performed CPR. Other firefighters helped as well.
"I couldn't find a pulse, no breathing, or anything like that. I did CPR on Greg for what seems like an eternity. It's different when you're at work because you have your partner right there beside you. You're there doing your work and everything goes smoothly. But when you're there by yourself, it just seems like an eternity before anybody can get to you," Bussey remembered.
Ultimately, Bailey was transported to MUSC in just 17 minutes.
Bailey had suffered a major heart attack. Friends and colleagues say there's a chance he would have died had it happened somewhere else.
Instead, the fire chief was surrounded by men and women ready to save a life. Somewhat ironically, they did just that as they walked to remember hundreds of other firefighters who died doing the same.
"It's a crappy situation that happened, but if it had to happen, that was the place for it to happen," Bussey said.
Now, Bailey is doing better. Friends report he's still in the intensive care unit, but, by all accounts, he's now alert and showing signs of recovery.
Bussey, meanwhile, said he doesn't feel like a hero, even though that's what many are calling him. He said what happened on Ravenel Bridge represents the strong brotherhood that unites firefighters across the Palmetto State.
"I did what I had to do. I did what needed to be done. I'm so thankful that I was there to be able to help him out," he said.