Rutgers University-Camden students Tammy Meneses and Vanessa Solis-Palma were heading home after a night of playing video games at a friend’s apartment.
But just as they stepped outside, the smell of smoke filled the air. Then they noticed the duplex going up in flames a block away.
The girls quickly called the four friends whose apartment they’d just left. Then the six students took off running towards the fire.
When they arrived, they were shocked to find that no one was evacuating the building and no fire alarms were going off.
After calling 911 and alerting campus security, the students began making noise in hopes of waking those inside. They started rattling the fence, banging on windows, and screaming “Fire!”
Then Matteo Resanovic, 23, decided to act on impulse and break through a glass door, cutting his hand in the process.
The students then raced into the building, banging on doors and yelling to get people outside.
Resanovic, along with Jonathan E. Perez-Gaytan, 22, and Corey Zytko, 22, woke up a 90-year-old man trapped on the second floor of the building. They guided him through the smoke-filled building and out over the broken glass to safety.
One student even risked their life a second time to go back inside for warmer clothes for the man. But he still worried about one thing.
“Where’s my son?” the man asked them. His 63-year-old son was still inside the building somewhere.
“I went in one more time after he asked me to look for his son,” Resanovic 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.”
Firefighters soon arrived and contained the fire within 30 minutes. The students left when it was clear rescuers had things under control, but didn’t give anyone their names.
Tragically, the 90-year-old’s son did not make it out of the building and was found on the third floor in a bedroom. The 90-year-old’s wife was not home during the fire.
Word about the good Samaritans quickly spread throughout campus and the town. Everyone wanted to know who had risked their lives so selflessly for others.
Even their own parents had no idea their kids were the heroes, and Zytko’s mom soon asked him, “Did they find the good Samaritans?”
Although reluctant to step forward, the brave students eventually did. “Ma, that was me,” Zytko later told his mom.
Resanovic also spoke about the night and shrugged off his injury. “It’s nothing compared to what the old man lost,” he said. “I just regret not being able to get the guy’s son.”
“I think it was really amazing that they considered the community and other people and their safety over themselves,” Mary Beth Daisey, vice chancellor of student affairs at the university said.
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