As bystanders watched the Citadel Mews West seniors home go up in flames Thursday night, three teens rushed into the burning building to help get residents out safely.
On Thursday night Ryken Glew, 17, and Jackson Brown, 17, were heading off to play basketball with their friend Ethan Katicic, 18, who was meeting them in the Walmart parking lot when the duo spotted billowing black smoke blowing across the sky. The teens hopped in their car and drove toward the smoke to see the Citadel on fire.
Glew jumped out of the car and barrelled into the building while Brown parked and chased after him, rushing past dozens of people who were watching and taking pictures.
The two arrived before emergency vehicles or first responders, and once they realized the home was a seniors’ home, they knew they had to help.
“Next thing I know, we're running into the side doors (to) try to help as many people as possible. There were about five other guys with us and we just tried to do everything we could,” Glew said.
The scene around them was pandemonium. As fire crews tried to reach the blaze, crowds and traffic in the area got in the way.
Glew and Brown were trying to get residents out and running through the halls of the building, checking each room to make sure seniors had evacuated. The residents were flustered, Glew said, because they weren’t sure if it was a false alarm.
“That was the scariest feeling, thinking you missed someone in the building,” Brown said.
Katicic said once he arrived, he could see the smoke and hear the roar of the flames. His brain started to prioritize helping people and he said he was about to run into the building but his friends said they got everyone out of the Citadel Mews West building. Katicic, an aspiring firefighter or emergency responder, later headed into the adjacent long-term care building to help evacuate it.
“I went into the second building because it started to fill with smoke,” Katicic said, adding some of the residents were still in their beds when he arrived.
“I had to carry one lady down the stairs, but majority of the time it was slowly, everyone one by one. We (would) lead them down the stairs, hand them off. So there (are) four flights of stairs. There were probably eight or nine people just at each level helping people walk down the stairs,” Katicic said.
Katicic and the other volunteers carried oxygen tanks, supplies, and medical records outside and organized it for the nurses.
They wore their COVID-19 face masks to protect their lungs and their sweaters and T-shirts were pulled up over their faces, but the smoke still made it tough to breathe.
“I honestly, I think the smoke was probably the worst,” Katicic said.
"Yeah, the smoke was definitely the worst part, especially for the old people ... who had to breathe with a bunch of smoke,” Brown said.
During the night the teens said they were more worried about the residents than themselves. They knew if they were having trouble breathing, the residents on oxygen tanks must really be suffering.
The gravity of the situation didn’t really hit the trio until they got home, when they couldn’t sleep, partly due to adrenaline and partly due to the smell of the burned building that couldn’t be washed off with a shower.
Glew got a piece of ash in his eye, impairing his vision for a couple days, although it has returned to normal now.
While the teens are being heralded as heroes, they said the real heroes were the nurses and firefighters on the scene. They said they were just raised to help those around them in distress.
“I feel like we were just doing what we had to do, because no one else was helping. I don't think we deserve any extra recognition for that. I feel that I did it because that's what was right. That's how I was raised to be, I guess,” Brown said.