Cable Guy Turns His Ladder Into a Lifesaver

By Matt Zapotosky
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 7, 2008

When Jorge Rivera saw thick, black smoke force a woman to drop a young girl from the top floor of a Silver Spring apartment building, he did not hesitate to act. The Comcast repairman pulled over, yanked the ladder off his truck and ran to rescue those still trapped by the fire.

By the time firefighters arrived, Rivera had helped about six people escape the blaze, which injured two people and displaced a dozen families yesterday morning. "It was nothing," Rivera said. "I got two kids at home. If they were somewhere burning, what would you do?"

Fire officials confirmed that when they arrived at White Oak Gardens, in the 11600 block of Lockwood Drive, there was little rescue work to be done. Most of the people inside the three-story building when the fire started at 10:30 a.m. had escaped-- even some who struggled to navigate the halls because of heat and smoke.

"When we came up, there were already ladders on the building," said Capt. Oscar Garcia, a spokesman for the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service.

One firefighter and a woman who jumped from a third-floor balcony suffered minor injuries and were taken to the hospital. The youngster dropped from the third floor was not hurt, Garcia said.

Garcia said that the fire started in the kitchen of a bottom-floor apartment but that investigators were trying to determine the cause.

Bintou Jobe, 37, was among those who escaped on their own. She said that she and her 5-year-old daughter had to cling to the stair railing, navigating blindly through hallways filled with smoke.

"We just saw the smoke coming out from our window," Jobe said. "It was black."

At midday yesterday, displaced residents huddled outside and watched investigators comb through the wreckage of their homes. Firefighters had broken out most of the windows in the building, leaving the blackened interiors of the apartments exposed.

Garcia said the Red Cross will assist affected families. At least 14 people were inside the building when the blaze started, he said, four in the apartment where the fire originated and 10 on the second and third floors.

"They were trapped by the smoke," Garcia said. "They couldn't get through the smoke and the heat."

More than 80 firefighters from Montgomery and Prince George's counties were called to battle the blaze, Garcia said. The fire was extinguished within 20 minutes, he said.

Rivera, 22, lingered briefly after the fire was out, making calls and talking to reporters. Would he continue on to work?

"Of course," he said. "I have an appointment down the street."


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