What college kids do in their dorms on Friday nights usually isn’t inspiring or newsworthy. But on March 23, a group of students at Rutgers University-Camden did something truly incredible.
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, a group of friends were hanging out playing Mario Kart just past midnight. But when two students left the dorm, they spotted a horrifying sight and alerted the others:
The apartment building across the street was on fire.
A student named Vanessa Solis-Palma called 911, and another student, Corey Zytko, let a campus security officer know. Meanwhile, the students waited for the fire department to arrive.
But they were troubled by the silence coming from the building—there were no alarms or sirens, and no one was exiting the building.
People were inside, apparently unaware of the grave danger they were in, and there was no time to waste.
So on impulse, three students jumped into action and became heroes:
They entered the burning building to alert their neighbors.
The three young men—Matteo Resanovic, 23, Corey Zytko, 22, and Jonathan Perez-Gaytan, 22—rushed into the building knocking on doors and screaming “fire!”
“I wasn’t really thinking,” Resanovic told the Inquirer. “I just broke the front door glass.”
“Fire 101,” Zytko added. “You’re taught as a kid get everyone out of the building, knock on all the doors. I was just going with it.”
The students rushed up to the second floor, and found one neighbor seriously in need of their help:
A 90-year-old man, who was in bed when they found him.
The students got the elderly man downstairs and out of the flaming building. He had no time to get dressed, so once outside in the cold, students ran to get him slippers and coats.
The man then asked where his son was. The 62-year-old son lived on the third floor of the building, and Resanovic ran back into the fire to try to save him.
But when he got to the third floor, he realized it was too late.
“I saw that the room that was on fire was just engulfed,” Resanovic told CBS Philadelphia. “Flames were popping underneath the door. Made a decision not to open it up because I didn’t want the fire to spread even faster.”
Despite his heroic efforts, the son ended up being the lone casualty of the fire.
“I’m sorry for his loss that’s all I can really say,” Resanovic said.
Despite the loss, the students were widely hailed as heroes for their life-saving bravery.
“I think it was really amazing that they considered the community and other people and their safety over themselves,” Mary Beth Daisey, vice chancellor of student affairs at Rutgers-Camden, told the Inquirer.
“It was just a rush,” Perez-Gaytan told NBC Philadelphia. “Our first reaction was to go and help. We didn’t think much of it. Just to get people out safe.”
And the following Monday, the students got a special surprise from someone eager to thank them.
They were reunited with the 90-year-old they saved.
The elderly man, Albert Parker, expressed his gratitude and hugged his rescuers.
“You saved my life,” Parker told them. “Thank you.”
Even though Parker lost his son in the fire, in that moment the family focused on kindness and heroism displayed that night—the students who risked their lives to save the day.
“We had one tragedy,” another of Parker’s sons, Jamie, told NBC. “Thank God the other one didn’t happen and my father was saved.”
“We want everybody to know how thankful we are for what they did.”