BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) - A resident at an apartment complex in Buffalo's Elmwood Village woke Tuesday and found fire surrounding him and his oxygen tank. Seconds later, his apartment was consumed.
Many of the more than 100 people who live at the Brent Manor Apartments are elderly, and some are disabled. If it were not for the quick action of the building supervisor and Buffalo firefighters, the fire could have proved deadly.
Tenants say they are used to false alarms.
Robin Oleksa explained, "When somebody burns something on the stovetop, it automatically triggers the alarm."
But Tuesday's two-alarm fire was very real.
It started in a second-floor apartment occupied by a man in his 60s, who later told his friends his oxygen tank was causing the flames to spread.
But he was rescued and taken to the hospital for treatment of smoke inhalation. Buffalo firefighters responded and quickly contained and extinguished the fire.
"There is extensive damage to the apartment where the fire started, and the two next to it. But other than that, the tenants were all able to move back in," said Buffalo Fire Commissioner Garnell Whitfield.
Still, it was a challenging morning in making sure everyone was okay.
"We had some people here with disabilities, functionally challenged, some elderly here. That always complicates our job because we have to take a little more time to make sure they're okay," Whitfield explained.
Building supervisor Richard Gonzalez added, "We had a few people who didn't take the alarm seriously and this fire seriously. And that's something we're going to address, with maybe having fire prevention coming in and talking to tenants about evacuating."
Whitfield says the apartment maintenance workers and management made a huge difference in keeping tenants safe.
"As a matter of fact, one of the maintenance people here, Richard Gonzalez, put a ladder up and helped evacuate the gentleman in the fire building. He did a great job. He greatly assisted the gentleman, and us," Whitfield said.
In fact, Gonzalez crawled on his hands and knees knocking on every door in the building to help get people out.
"[My job] carries many hats, and today unfortunately was fireman. And that's definitely no laughing matter," Gonzalez said.
Tenant Maxine Evers said, "I saw black smoke coming out from Dennis's apartment, and he was on the balcony saying, 'Help, help!'"
Gonzalez didn't hesitate. He grabbed his own ladder, reached the tenant on his second floor balcony, and led him down to safety.
"I don't feel like a hero. I was just doing my job for the day, and hopefully I did that to the best of my ability. I feel like I probably could have done more," Gonzalez said.
The building supervisor says he feels he could have done more to stop flames from spreading, but he did plenty, including knocking on every door.
"Black smoke is hard to see anything. I was literally on my hands and feet, legs and knees, trying to find people," Gonzalez said. "Had another gentleman in the apartment next door who actually crouched in there and didn't even come out. We found him later, and luckily he's fine."
And though Whitfield praises Gonzalez for his action, to the building supervisor, it was all just a part of the job.
"It was adrenaline; it was getting it done," he said.
And though it was another hat to wear, Gonzalez added, "I don't want to wear that hat again."
Some apartments suffered water and smoke damage. Total damage to the building is estimated at $500,000.
The cause of the fire is under investigation.
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