Lifestyle & Human Interest

Deputy Climbs Burning Building to Save Baby on Top Floor: 'There Were Screams Coming from Everywhere'


A family in Orange County, Florida, nearly lost everything early Saturday morning when a fire broke out in their apartment complex, but thanks to a brave local deputy, they escaped with their lives.

Mom Barbara Elenus was at home with her sister, Calandra, and their five children, according to WFTV. At around 4 a.m. they realized there was something very wrong at their Oak Ridge Apartment building.

A fire had broken out and was quickly growing. Three of Elenus’ kids and her niece were able to get out of the unit before the fire blocked their way, but she, Calandra, and her 2-year-old Sophia were trapped on the third floor, with no way out except the balcony.

Deputies Jhon Palacio, William Puzynski and Digiovanni Lugo were among the first responders on the scene. They had received word that there was a fire, but they had no idea just how large the fire was.

“Smoke everywhere, people just hanging off balconies, screaming,” Deputy Jhon Palacio recalled, according to a video shared by the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, Florida.

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“And then when we got there, we realized that the entire building was on fire,” Deputy William Puzynski said.

“There were screams coming from everywhere. There were screams coming from first-floor apartments, screams coming from behind us, other buildings, and then I can hear a baby screaming, and that’s what caught my attention the most, was her screams.”

Elenus didn’t know if her children and niece had made it to safety, and she was terrified she would have to jump from the third floor with her daughter in her arms — but the deputies showed up just in time, responding to their cries for help.

Puzynski led the charge, stripping off his gear without missing a beat and climbing up the balcony railings. Standing on the second-story railing, he told Elenus to lower Sophia down, and he caught her and transported her safely to the ground.

“Something just like a calmness came over me where I was able to just lower her down and let her go with him, because I knew he was sent there to save her life,” Elenus told WFTV. “He’s like my hero.”

Elenus and Calandra were then able to make it down as well, and were shortly reunited with their children. Sophia has since been dubbed the “balcony baby,” but managed to come out of the ordeal with just one blister.

The help didn’t end there, either. A few days later, Elenus stopped by the sheriff’s office to thank her heroes in person — and her heroes were waiting, armed with gifts and clothing for the kids.

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The family is staying at a hotel while they figure out where they’ll go next for housing. Elenus’ employer has also started a GoFundMe for them.

“Barbara has been through a lot her whole life, with this scenario being one of the worst she’s endured,” Evan Dimov wrote. “She is incredibly strong and resilient, having a hard time asking for help, which is why I want to put this GoFundMe together to give her some sense of peace during these tough times.

“Although she wants to work, she is unable to put in the same hours she used to, being that she is a mother of 4 and her kids need her support … this fundraiser is so crucial to help her and her family to get back on their feet.”

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