It was gut-check time for two Mandel Group apartment workers on Sept. 11 and the duo acted quickly and courageously, a fire chief said.
Not only did they run into a Brookfield apartment building after smelling smoke and seeing flames shooting out the garage, but they pulled an elderly couple to safety and went back in to save their pet dog and birds, Brookfield Deputy Fire Chief Brian Gerner said.
"Most people will see smoke and fire in a building and everybody's running out and you two ran in," Gerner told maintenance technician Matt Potts and his supervisor Brad Schmidt.
"You guys knew where the fire was. You knew who the people were who were living there. You knew that they needed help."
That quick knowledge of tenants speaks well of the Mandel company and its staff, Gerner added, showing "you take a lot of pride in your job."
Duo awarded with plaques, letters
Gerner and fire officials with Brookfield City Fire Department Ladder Company 2171 visited Mandel's office in The Woodlands of Brookfield apartments Thursday to honor Potts and Schmidt with plaques and a letter from Fire Chief Charlie Myers.
"Your courageous act to rescue occupants on Astor Court prevented a potential tragedy," Myers wrote.
Schmidt said he and Potts were working a couple buildings away with the doors open on a warm, sunny morning. Schmidt said he smelled smoke and yelled for Potts. The two rushed to the four-unit apartment in the 18000 block of Astor Court.
"We saw flames coming out of the garage (and) saw one resident at her door, told her to get out," Schmidt recalled Thursday. "Matt went to two other doors, knocked on the doors."
They ran to rear patio door to get the elderly couple. The wife was in the kitchen and didn't want to leave. "She was yelling her dog, her dog," Schmidt said.
Heavy smoke obstructed sight
Potts went to the back bedroom, helped the husband off the bed and carried him out. Schmidt grabbed his walker and helped get the woman and her dog outside before running back in to grab the bird cage. By that time he could barely see through the smoke.
Gerner arrived as the two were bringing the elderly couple outside. The smoke was "two to three feet off the ceiling," he said.
"It was amazing how fast that smoke was getting into that building. I know you guys are very humble that day (but) what you guys did really made a big difference," Gerner said.
He called it a "heroic effort."
Rebecca Knight, Mandel Group's property manager for The Woodlands of Brookfield, said Schmidt had worked for the complex for about five years and Potts, about three.
"We couldn't be more proud of them," Knight said.
Tenants displaced, relocated
The elderly couple is doing well, staying with family while preparing to move to a senior apartment complex, she said.
The four-plex is uninhabitable. The garage is boarded up, the couple's unit is gutted and there is smoke damage to the building. Another one of the tenant moved to a different Mandel complex in Brookfield, Norhardt Crossing, because The Woodlands has no vacancies. And the other two tenants have been displaced to friends and family homes.
Damage was estimated at $100,000, and the cause of the fire that started in the garage remains undetermined, Gerner told Patch.