ST. PETERSBURG, Florida - It was supposed to be a fun filled week of relaxation at the Boston Marathon. Jim Cunningham, a 28-year veteran firefighter with St. Petersburg Fire & Rescue was with his 13-year-old daughter and wife, who was running in the race, when the unthinkable happened.
"I thought it was a transformer or a generator," said Jim Cunningham, who didn't think much of the initial blast. But after a second explosion, he said it quickly became apparent what was happening was no accident.
"As soon as the smoke cleared and people started running, I saw people lying in the street. I threw my daughter my cell phone and said, 'Don't move.' "
Making sure his daughter was safe in a nearby hotel lobby, Cunningham wasted no time putting his training into action.
"We're the kind of guys who usually run in instead of run out. I don't know how to explain that. We just do it," Cunningham said of his occupation.
"There was so much chaos and so many people down. I did a quick triage. There was no fire rescue there at the time."
Instead, he instructed anyone he could find how to help save those most critically wounded. "I was telling the civilians what to do. 'Press here, don't stop until someone relieves you.' "
The whole time he kept a close eye on his daughter's location. He said the hardest part was the 2-hour wait before being reunited with his wife, who hadn't yet finished the race.
"It was terrible ... it was terrible."
When the entire family landed home safe in Florida, reality set in.
"I mean it's tough," Cunningham said, for the first time becoming emotional. "You look back on it, we landed in Orlando and I actually pulled the car over. It kinda hit me then."
Despite years of responding to disasters in Tampa Bay, it turns out a day off in Boston will be the day this longtime firefighter will never forget.
"We're all put in a certain place and time for a reason."