We like to think we know ourselves well enough to know how we’d react in an emergency situation, but when lives are in danger and fight or flight mode kicks in, most people have almost no control of the way they react.
In late March 2018, a group of young men and women in Camden, New Jersey were the first to arrive at the scene of a deadly fire. It wasn’t until firefighters arrived at the scene minutes later that everyone realized just what a group of unlikely heroes managed to do…
Featured photo credit: philadelphia.cbslocal.com
The 911 Call
At 12:13 in the morning, a local resident called 911 to report that a fire had broken out at an historic 3-story brownstone apartment building in Camden, New Jersey. The apartment, which had been split into a duplex, was home to an elderly couple on 1 side, and student from Rutgers University Camden on the other.
4 Minutes Later
After receiving the frantic 911 call, dispatch notified firefighters at Camden City Fire Department of the emergency at 206 Cooper Street in Camden. Within just 4 minutes, crews from the firehouse arrived at the scene and quickly assessed the situation…
The First ‘Responders’
However, by the time firefighters got to the apartment building, they discovered they weren’t the first ones at the scene. While the firefighters were pulling up in front of the building, the crews saw young men, who were possibly students from Rutgers University Camden, helping out.
The Good Samaritans
“The ladder company noticed what we think were students from Rutgers bringing the elderly gentleman out of the building,” said Camden City Fire Department Chief Michael Harper. However, the young men left the scene before the firemen could get their names and ask them what happened…
Left With The Professionals
Before leaving the scene, the young men left the 90-year-old man that escaped the fire in the care of paramedics. While he appeared to be fine, the first responders rushed the elderly man, Albert Parker, to Cooper Hospital to be thoroughly examined.
A Lucky Survivor
Doctors determined Albert was perfectly healthy thanks to the good Samaritans that helped him escape the fire. Sadly, firefighters didn’t make it in time to save the 90-year-old’s 62-year-old son, John Parker, who became trapped in his 3rd-floor bedroom…
A Tragic Loss
“Using one of our thermo-imaging cameras, the officer with Ladder 1 noticed that we did have a fatality in the room,” Chief Harper said. “It’s an unfortunate situation for us, for me as the mayor of this great city of Camden,” said Mayor Frank Moran. “We had a fire here at 206 Cooper St. and a life that perished.”
The Mystery Heroes
After the fire was put out, the crews asked around about who the young men were that risked their lives to save the elderly man. Within a few days, word spread about what happened, and the good Samaritans were identified as a group of Rutgers students…
A Tight-Knit Community
When officials from the university heard about what their students did, they weren’t terribly surprised. “They are completely engaged in our community, we have a huge civic engagement effort,” said Mary Beth Daisey, vice chancellor of student affairs. “They feel a part of the community and so they feel responsibility to the community as well.”
The Rutgers students, Jonathan Perez-Gayton, Matteo Resanovic, and Corey Zytko eventually came forward as the students who helped save the 90-year-old from the fire, which is still being investigated, but is believed to have been started accidentally…
A Typical Friday Night
According to the Rutgers University-Camden students, the night of the fire was just a typical Friday evening for the group of friends, who spent the night hanging out and playing video games like Nintendo’s Mario Kart at a friend’s apartment near campus.
A Strange Smell
Just before 12:15 in the morning, Tammy Meneses and Vanessa Solis-Palma were tired of playing video games and decided to head home. When they stepped out onto the street, however, they couldn’t help but notice the smell of smoke in the air…
The First To The Scene
As the pair walked down the street, the smell of fire got stronger until they saw fire burst out of a window of a brownstone duplex. Tammy immediately called the 4 friends she and Vanessa had just left to tell them what she witnessed. The 4 friends ran out and all 6 students ran to the apartment.
When they reached the sidewalk outside of the duplex, they noticed no one was running out of the building. They also noticed that no smoke alarms were going off and there were no sirens from the fire station, so the students took matters into their own hands…
Waking Up The Neighborhood
While Vanessa was calling 911 to report the fire, 22-year-old Corey Zytko contacted campus security and Jonathan Perez, 22, and Matteo Resanovic, 23, started banging on the fence outside the apartment and screaming to get the attention of anyone in the building.
When no one came out, Matteo’s instincts kicked in and he literally broke down the front door to get inside. “I wasn’t really thinking. I just broke the front door glass,” said Matteo, who cut his hand while using his elbow and fist to break the glass door. Once the door was shattered, Matteo, Jonathan, and Corey ran into the building screaming, “Fire! Fire…”
Corey and Jonathan managed to wake up 90-year-old Albert and then helped him down the stairs and out to safety. “Fire 101. You’re taught as a kid get everyone out of the building, knock on all the doors. I was just going with it,” said Corey. While Albert was outside, 1 of the students ran back inside to get him slippers and some coats to keep him warm, but then he asked the boys, “Where’s my son?” Matteo ran back inside 1 last time to look for the man’s 63-year-old son but tragically couldn’t get to him.
Going Back Into The Burning Building
“I went in one more time after he asked me to look for his son,” Matteo said. “I went to the third floor and saw the room was just engulfed. I yelled a couple of times and didn’t hear anything. I thought it would be better not to open that door.” Shortly after, the fire department arrived and got the fire under control within 30 minutes…
A Tough Decision
“I like our community, our neighborhood. Just trying to keep it safe and do the right thing,” said Jonathan. He and his friends were glad they could help but felt awful that they didn’t get to Albert’s son in time. “I saw that the room that was on fire was just engulfed. Flames were popping underneath the door. Made a decision not to open it up because I didn’t want the fire to spread even faster,” Matteo said. “I’m sorry for his loss that’s all I can really say.”
After the brave students were identified, the 90-year-old was reunited with his rescuers and was able to thank them for what they did for him and his family. “You saved my life. Thank you,” Albert said to the friends. “We had one tragedy,” said Jamie Parker, Albert’s son. “Thank God the other one didn’t happen and my father was saved. We want everybody to know how thankful we are for what they did.”