Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort -- Just past midnight, in the dark early morning hours of Feb. 17, Lance Cpl. Tad Steadman and his friend Mike Hassan were working on their cars outside the Westbury Mews Apartments in Summersville, S.C., when Steadman, an air traffic controller aboard Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, noticed something wrong.
A small fire was beginning on the second story of the 900 block of the apartment building.
"I saw it’d started jumping up to the third deck," said Steadman, who immediately directed Hassan to call 911 and ran into the building. "I ran straight to the second story to the apartment it started in and started banging on the door. My first thought process was getting everyone out."
As Hassan, a former soldier, spoke with emergency services on the phone, Steadman continued alerting residents moving next to the apartment directly above the fire. Soon he was joined by Hassan and helped clear people out of the building.
"Military mode kicked in," Hassan said. "We were yelling 'fire, fire, fire' and 'get out.'"
According to Steadman, residents were hesitant to trust there was danger because other young adults had been causing mischief in the area recently.
"We thought it was a joke at first," resident Pele Lee told WCSC news. "So, my kids finally came running into the room. They [were] like, 'dad, mom, they say it's a fire.' So we all got up, and everybody in the building was running around trying to get everything they could out."
Steadman swept through the third floor and then the second floor alerting residents, before moving back up to the third floor to make sure everyone had exited safely.
"By the time I made it back to the third story again, you could barely see," he said. "I remember looking up. I was bent down trying to stay under the smoke. It was so black I thought I was looking at the sky. Smoke was billowing out. I couldn’t see. I couldn’t breathe."
Steadman said emergency services arrived very quickly, and their quick reaction prevented the spread of the fire and saved the nearby buildings.
Despite the destruction of 12 apartments in the fire, no one was seriously injured.
According to Robert Waring, Summerville Fire Department Chief, their quick actions and early notifications really saved some lives.