As the house filled with hot smoke, Mike Hughes says he had a hunch. He dashed into a room -- the first he tried -- and there in a crib was a 9-month-old girl “overwhelmed by smoke inhalation.”
The firefighter gathered the infant in his arms and rushed her to safety.
"Another 20 seconds and it would have been a different outcome,” he recalled to KOMO News.
That rescue happened 17 years ago. The girl, Dawnielle Davison, is now 18, and on Saturday, she graduated from high school.
Her family and friends were there to support her on her big day. But Davison also had a special guest in the crowd: the firefighter who saved her life.
Hughes, who lives in Wenatchee, Washington, and is now retired, told TODAY that he connected with Davison about five years ago after rediscovering an old newspaper clip about his rescue of the girl.
"I thought, 'I wonder if that baby I pulled out of that fire is still alive and kicking.' So I just got on Facebook and looked her name up and presto, there she was," the 61-year-old said. "I thought it would be fun to say hi."
Davison says she had no idea that she had come so close to death at such a young age until Hughes reached out to her. But she told TODAY that once her shock at the news wore off, she felt thankful that "someone like that, who saved me, cared enough" to find out what had become of her.
"I feel like I owe him a lot,” the teen told the news outlet.
Since making that initial connection, Hughes and Davison have kept in touch, chatting over Facebook and meeting in person on occasion.
For her graduation, Davison says she knew she wanted her hero to be there.
“[It’s] really emotional," Davison told KOMO News through tears. "I don't know really how to describe it, they're happy tears, to realize some things could have gone wrong."
Hughes said he was really moved that the teen thought to invite him for such an important occasion.
“She sent me an invitation so I thought, ‘By golly, I’m going,’” he told ABC News. “It meant an awful lot to me. I was really happy.”