As smoke from a kitchen fire filled one of the three-story buildings at the Savoy Plaza Apartments early Tuesday afternoon, residents crouched and crawled through the long hallways of the building, while several people climbed out of windows, hanging on to the ledge while firefighters rushed to the scene to rescue them with ladder trucks.
One man was hospitalized after he jumped from a third-floor window, emergency officials reported.
“You’re scared cause you don’t know which way the fire is,” resident Brian Hill, 24, said. “You can’t see nothing.”
Hill lives on the third floor and was about to settle down for an afternoon nap when he heard the fire alarm in the hallway. He opened his door to find a thick fog of black smoke.
Hill crouched, held his breath and ran toward the exit about 30 to 40 feet away, all while grateful that his girlfriend took their 10-month-old daughter to work Tuesday.
“That’s the only thing I was thinking about,” Hill said. “I’m glad she wasn’t with me.”
Hill was met outside by Baton Rouge firefighters who arrived at the complex at 520 Wooddale Blvd., north of Florida Boulevard near Airline Highway, at about 1:30 p.m.
Firefighters found smoke seeping out from doors, windows and vents from a fire that spawned from a pot left on a stove in unit 102, department spokesman Curt Monte said.
Capt. Macey Morrison with Engine 13, the second truck to arrive, saw people on the third floor hanging out of windows. Firefighters positioned the ladder truck near one of the windows, extended the ladder and took down a family of four, including two young girls.
After grabbing the family, they entered the 72-unit building and began checking rooms, making sure everyone was out, Morrison, a 22-year veteran, said. His crew found people in about five or six of the units.
“They were very scared at first,” Morrison said. “That’s a situation that nobody ever prepares for.”
In total, firefighters rescued 13 people, 10 adults and three children, from the building, Monte said. The fire caused about $200,000 in damage.
More than 60 firefighters and 15 trucks were used in the operation, Monte said.
The blaze was under control at about 2:50 p.m. and the fire was contained to the apartment where it began, Monte said. At about 2:30 p.m., firefighters went back into the building to make sure no one was left behind when the building was evacuated.
The building’s long, rectangular shape made the fire difficult to fight, Fire Chief Ed Smith said. The heat was also a factor, prompting the department to sound a general alarm, bringing additional trucks to the fire so they could rotate crews inside the building to keep the firefighters fresh.
East Baton Rouge Emergency Medical Services transported one person to the hospital, the man who jumped out of the third-story window, and examined four people at the scene for minor injuries, spokesman Mike Chustz said.
The jumper’s injuries are considered non-life threatening, Monte said.
LaKortney Riley, 29, on the third floor was one of the tenants rescued by the firefighters.
She said she could not hear the hallway smoke alarms through her closed door and did not know anything was wrong until she opened her door at about 1:20 p.m. to go check her mail.
“The hallways were smoked out and we couldn’t get out,” she said.
She immediately called 911 and waited for the Fire Department to arrive.
Riley said she was not scared for herself, but for her 13-year-old cousin who ran out of the building alone immediately after seeing the smoke. Riley was scared for her cousin’s well-being, but found the teen unharmed outside the building.
At the same time on the first floor, Demetria Gervin, 38, also first noticed the smoke when she heard the hallway alarm.
“When I opened my door, all I saw was black and brown smoke,” Gervin said.
She grabbed her 7-year-old daughter, Mi-Pashun Gervin, dropped to the ground and began crawling, pushing her daughter in front of her.
As they, along with Demetris Gervin’s brother, crawled through the hall, Demetria Gervin knocked on every door she passed, trying to alert other tenants to the fire.
But the smoke was so thick that she could not see her daughter crawling a few inches in front of her.
“I was trying to help as many as I could,” Demetria Gervin said.
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