A weekend fire at a New London apartment complex could have turned fatal, if not for the actions of four young men.
Shortly after 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 27, the New London Police and Fire Department responded to a structure fire at 623 Wallace Street.
The blaze is believed to have started in a pail used to contain cigarette butts, which was located on a second story balcony of an eight-unit apartment building.
According to police, three women sitting outside across the street noticed a small fire develop in the pail. It quickly spread as the women yelled “fire” and went to phone 911.
Four young men who were inside a home at 622 Wallace Street ran outside when they heard the yelling.
The fire had already spread towards the top of the building and had consumed the balcony, shattering the doorway window.
The four young men from 622 Wallace Street, Damien Fette 17, Dillan Young, 22, David Puffe, 22, and Chad Schweitzer, 22, ran across the street and into the burning apartment building.
“When we got over there, the fire was already going up and down the outside of the building,” Schweitzer said.
The four ran through the building banging on doors and alerting the residents that the building was on fire.
“People were answering the door like, what?” Schweitzer said.
When they arrived at apartment No.3, nobody came to the door.
“There was quite a bit of smoke coming in the hallway through the broken glass on the balcony,” Schweitzer said. “It was a pretty horrid smell.”
After knocking on the door several times with no answer, Young decided to kick the door open to make sure nobody was left inside.
“He kicked it multiple times,” Schweitzer said.
When they got the door opened, a male resident was in the living room coming towards them. They told him the building was on fire and they had to get out immediately.
The man later told police he was sleeping in his apartment at the time of the fire and “those guys got me out.”
As all five exited the building, fire had spread on the outside upper level into the attic and was working its way down the sides of the building.
Melted shingles and siding material was dripping down over the exit, causing burns on Schweitzer and Young.
“Hot tar dripped on us,” Schweitzer said. He had some land behind his ear and in his hair.
“We didn’t really feel it at the moment but we did a little while later,” he said. “It was an intense moment, an intense day.”
When they got out, they worked to move cars away from the building.
Firefighters arrived on scene at 1:12 p.m. just five minutes after the dispatch.
“The fire spread rapidly from the middle of the complex,” New London Fire Chief Bart Roloff said. “When we arrived there were open flames venting through the roof.”
Flames reached the attic area through the eaves and soffit lining.
“The New London Fire Department did a good job,” Schweitzer said. “It was less than five minutes after they got there, and that fire was out.”
He added, “They saved the building.”
Roloff reported the Red Cross responded to assist residents of the building who were displaced due to smoke and structural damage to the building.
He said the fire is still under investigation.
Despite the losses residents may have suffered, Schweitzer said he and his three friends were thankful that everyone got out of the building safely. “I can’t imagine how terrible it would have been that day, if someone didn’t get out,” he said.
After the fire, New London Police Sgt. Casey Fields approached the four of them, shook their hands, thanked them, and said, “You guys did a good job today.”
“The four of us haven’t always been on the right side of the law,” Schweitzer said. “We’ve been in our share of trouble together, in courts and with the police.”
“It felt good to shake his hand, knowing we did the right thing,” Schweitzer said.
“He went out of his way to thank us.”