Man Saves Neighbors from Burning Pittsburgh Building

March 25, 2009
Firefighters lauded his efforts.


More than 20 people living in a Pittsburgh apartment building have lost everything they own. However, firefighters said the bravery of one of the residents may have saved lives.

Pittsburgh fire crews were called to a building at the corner of Brighton and Woods Run roads, which has businesses on the first level and apartments above.

Fire crews said the four-alarm fire in Woods Run started before 1 a.m. on the first floor and worked its way up to the higher floors of the building.

All of the residents got out safely and firefighters said that is thanks to Robert Downer. Downer, who lives in the building, had already escaped with his kids. But he ran back inside to bang on doors and help everybody get out. He told Channel 4 Action News' Ari Hait he didn't hesitate to run back inside.

"Didn't think even about it. First thing is there's probably still people in there, so just make sure they're not," Downer said.

Hait reported investigators believe this fire began in the bottom floor of the building in the Laundromat and convenience store and then very quickly spread up into the two top floors.

The top floors were made up of four apartments where 21 people, including six young children, lived They only had minutes to get out.

"We was just sitting there and the next thing you know, we smelled smoke," said one woman who escaped the fire.

One person was taken to Allegheny General Hospital suffering from shortness of breath.

Angel Smith said she barely had time to think, she just grabbed her 11-month-old son and got as far away as she could from the smoke and flames.

"It's real frightening when you have babies in an apartment and it just goes up in flames out of nowhere," Smith said.

Hait reported that while firefighters were inside fighting the flames, they had to evacuate the building quickly after a backdraft caused the entire building to become engulfed in flames.

The building's residents were helpless as they watched their homes burn.

"Everybody was out here just crying, because they didn't know what was going on. You know, everybody was just shocked because we've never had a fire in our building or nothing before," said resident Christina Turner.

Arson investigators believe the fire was an accident, probably started by an electrical short. Hait reported the building is a total loss and inspectors said it will have to be torn down.

"I just moved in there a couple of months ago, just got my house completely put together. And now it's completely gone," said resident Ashley Payne.

The Red Cross is assisting the residents. But the organization only provides a place to stay for three days.

The building might also be too dangerous to allow anyone back inside, so residents are also unsure whether they'll be able to salvage any of their belongings.

Voice Your Opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Firehouse, create an account today!