What a crazy start to the day. Around 6:30 this morning I rushed into a burning building when I noticed an apartment fire in the building next to my own in Mariner’s Bay, Marina del Rey. It all started when I heard a series of soft explosions coming from outside my apartment. It sounded like quiet shotgun blasts and echoed off the complex on the other side of the basin.
I opened the front door to investigate and I could see smoke and flames pouring out of the apartment directly across the courtyard from my own. I immediately yelled to Jackie to get the cats ready to travel, triggered an alarm box outside my unit, and started running toward the building.
The way our complex is designed allowed me to approach the burning unit from a walkway behind the back deck and my first instinct was to check it, but I couldn’t get close enough to see inside. The flames were far too hot and the smoke was too thick. Someone or something had broken the bedroom window and sliding glass door…Flames were shooting out of them like a blast furnace.
Nearby some of my neighbors were fumbling with one of those apartment firehoses that was far too short to reach the unit where the fire started, and I surmised the tenants in the most immediate danger were already out. Strangely, the alarm bell was ringing in my building, but not the one that was burning.
I asked one of the would-be firefighters what unit he lived in and he pointed to the one next to the blaze. Then I asked if everybody was out of the building and he looked at me grimly and said “Nobody has come out”. Hardly believing my ears, but realizing there were probably fifty people unaccounted for, I quickly ran to the apartment on the other side of the burning unit and saw people coming out the back slider.
Seeing smoke pour upwards, I ran upstairs to the second floor and began smashing my fist on each door in the long corridor yelling Fire! Fire! Fire! Strangely, this is something I was trained to do 20 years ago but I’ve never been in a situation where I’d have to use that training until now. There was zero thought…I just did exactly what I had been trained to do.
Interesting to note, as people emerged from their apartments, which were filling with acrid smoke, they were all initially quite confused and a couple were even a bit irritated that someone was pounding on their door. Instead of running out of the building, they started milling around, putting on clothes and looking for personal belongings while I yelled to get out and began coughing. I suspect this was because it was so early in the morning and the situation was so confusing to people who were asleep. In almost every case this pause lasted a moment or two but then reality seemed to take hold and they made a beeline for the stairs. Later everyone was incredibly grateful when they talked to me. The units directly above the one where the fire started caught fire as well. Every unit in the building has smoke and water damage.
After clearing the second floor the fire alarm in the building finally triggered and I could hear sirens coming down the street. I ran up to the third floor and repeated the same process. At this point the smoke started to get pretty thick and it began to effect my breathing. I went out onto the roof for a minute, caught my breath, and then ran back down the stairwell to the deck just as LA Country Fire and Sheriffs arrived and took over the scene.
Within minutes there were eleven trucks and about forty firefighters on the scene moving hoses and equipment into place.
Sadly, the fire fighters did pull an older man out of the unit where the fire started. He’s listed in ‘very critical condition’. To be completely honest, I initially felt really, really sad about not trying to get into that unit but it was completely engulfed in flames. After talking to my buddy Mike Lydon, a firefighter in Boston, I know there’s nothing I could have done. Mike told me no firefighter would have gone into a fire that big without the right gear, oxygen, support, and a firehose. Makes sense to me.
In closing, this has been a crazy experience and hours later I’m still having a hard time calming down. Serious props to the men and women with LA County FD and LA City FD who arrived, dragged out the victim, and put out the fire. The fact that this is what they do for a living absolutely blows my mind. I may have been a good neighbor today, but firefighters are the real heroes. Time to check the batteries on my fire alarms…I hope you do too!