The man’s name was Jack.
He and Firefighter Steve Kohler met on the 15th floor of Atlantic City’s Jeffries Tower as alarms rang during an electrical fire Thursday night.
Firefighters had rushed in to help the nearly 300 mostly elderly and disabled residents evacuate the 18-story building.
“I tried to build a relationship with him to keep him calm,” Kohler said. “He wasn’t able to move all that well.”
They stopped several times in the trip downstairs, as Jack struggled.
At the bottom floor, there were three to four inches of water.
“I didn’t want him walking through it,” Kohler said. “It was just instinct. I picked him up, threw him over my back and grabbed his oxygen tank.”
A civilian got a chair for Jack, and Kohler helped him get his shoes back on then headed back up to bring down more people.
Nearby, Firefighter Marc Getzke had arrived as part of the third engine. He was doing his part in the “controlled chaos” when he saw Kohler in action.
Despite the rest that went on in the hours worked that night, that stuck with him.
So much so, that he wrote a Facebook post about the 13-year veteran’s actions.
“While vacating hundreds, some being carried down 15 flights or more because of immobility, I witnessed an act by a fellow fireman that has stuck with me, days later,” he wrote before recounting how Kohler talked with Jack “as (if) he knew him well personally.”
“I was just impressed and inspired watching a fellow fireman do what Steve did,” Getzke told BreakingAC. “It showed me the seriousness of the situation and dedication of my brothers.”
He even saw the rescue over and over in his sleep, he said. So he wrote about it.
Kohler was shocked when he read the post,
“I was amazed to see the impact you can have on another firefighter,” he said. “It sort of puts a different perspective on it.”
But, he added, it was not just him.
“I can’t stress enough how it was a complete team effort,” Kohler said. “It took the entire Local 198 (Atlantic City’s firefighter’s union) to make it a success so nobody got hurt.”
Rescues went on for hours.
“The radio traffic was non-stop, explaining which and how many residents were where and what help they needed to get down the stairs,” Getzke said. “Residents’ reactions and behaviors varied. Most were understanding, but all were in shock and disbelief. We all did what we could to keep them at ease.”
Fire Chief Scott Evans said he was proud of his firefighters.
“Their extraordinary efforts saved lives at Jeffries Tower,” Evans said. “While thick black smoke was filling hallways, our firefighters were able to get everyone out to safety. They are true heroes.”
Five towns also sent mutual aid.
“It was a coordinated effort,” Kohler said. “It takes everybody to do their job so there are no injuries.”
Added Getzke: “These types of situations really hit home. Especially knowing loved ones are so close and concerned. We were able to get everyone home safely, thankfully.”