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Heroes are never off duty

Frank Evans poured himself a cup of coffee and peered outside where the cattle ran frightened in different directions.

"I could hear the plane struggling, just above the cows," Evans said. "Then it hit the tree _ BAM! _ and I instinctively took off running."

Evans, a 12-year veteran of the Tampa Fire Department who moved to the Pasco countryside for the peace and quiet, was off duty Monday morning when the Piper Cherokee crashed about 40 yards from his front door. As his wife, Mechelle, called 911, he waded into the wreckage and pulled a woman to safety.

"She definitely had a back injury, but I had to get her out of there," Evans said. "Moving her was the lesser of two evils."

Patricia Barton, 48, of Hernando Beach was listed in serious/critical condition late Monday at Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg. She was one of four passengers in the plane piloted by her husband, Stephen J. Barton. (Please see separate story for details of the crash.)

"The pilot had pulled the co-pilot out, and the two kids couldn't get the woman out," Evans said. "I was afraid she would burn up in there."

By luck, the wing and fuel tank broke off in an oak tree away from the victims. "There was fire, but no explosion," Evans said.

As word of Evans' actions spread among the emergency workers at the scene, Pasco Emergency Services Director Amador Gonzalo sought him out.

"You should know how much we appreciate your professionalism," Gonzalo said. Later, he called Tampa Fire Chief Pete Botto with the same message.

"It felt good to get that call," Botto said. "Frank did us proud."

Evans, 36, who also has a young daughter, said he sought property "in the middle of nowhere because when I'm off duty, I don't want to see no city." His property is accessible only by a narrow, dirt road that runs off U.S. 41, ending in a pasture just north of the private runway of Pilot Country Estates. Before the crash, the pasture was full of cattle.

"Man, they're still running," Evans said.

Today, Evans is scheduled to return to duty _ at Station 22. He has worked there since May 1986. It's a good place for a firefighter who is also trained as a medical technician and in handling hazardous materials.

Station 22 is at Tampa International Airport.

So far Evans has seen more action in his front yard.

"And I'd just as soon keep it that way."