ORLANDO, Fla. — Orange County Fire Rescue and the State Fire Marshal are currently investigating what started an apartment fire in Oak Ridge early Saturday morning.
The fire was reported at The Isles at East Millenia apartments near Lake Fountain Drive and Orange Blossom Trail. Orange County Sheriff's Office (OCSO) officials said they responded to several reports of smoke and several people hanging on to balconies.
The fire was reported at 4:11 a.m. at The Isles at East Millenia apartments, near Lake Fountain Drive and Orange Blossom Trail. Orange County Sheriff's Office (OCSO) officials said they responded to several reports of smoke and several people hanging on to balconies.
Less than ten minutes after arriving on scene, first responders said they rescued eight people from the burning building, including a one-year-old girl. OCSO Deputy William Puzynski said his instincts kicked into gear when he heard a child screaming.
“It’s hard to explain. I just knew I had to save the baby,” Puzynski said. “I don’t think I was thinking. I just had to figure out a way.”
Puzynski said he scaled the building with help from his fellow deputies and successfully rescued the baby girl from the third floor, the most heavily-impacted level of the structure.
It was the kind of tense, fast-paced situation first responders train for, said Orange County Fire Rescue Battalion Chief Steve Sherrill.
“We train for all situations. The roof came down, so there was heavy fire up in the attic. Part of the floor collapsed as well,” Sherrill said. “So making access into some of those apartments was a bit difficult, but that’s something that we train for.”
Sherrill said firefighters had no time to set up a command center Saturday morning due to the severity of the situation: a practice they usually do when they arrive on scene. Instead of putting out the fire first, responders jumped immediately into rescue mode, working to save the lives they saw were clearly at risk.
"When we got here, there was fire rolling out of the roof, people hanging from the balconies and screaming, and all of our crews did a great job. They threw ladders onto the buildings and got everybody out safely," Sherrill said.
Sherrill said such a rapid response was possible because of the fire department’s suppression units, which are partially funded by grants.
“All of our suppression units have four people on there and you know, this is why,” Sherrill said. “Getting all these [responders] to the scene quickly is what saved the bulk of these people.”
Firefighters said because the fire made its way to the attic area, posing an electrical hazard, they cut power to the entirety of the building that was damaged. Power would remain off until electricians could come verify whether it was safe to turn back on, Sherrill said.
Twelve of the building’s 24 units were directly impacted, according to a tweet from fire rescue. There were no fatalities or major injuries. However, a couple who lived on the third floor told Spectrum News they were grieving the loss of their beloved animals in Saturday morning’s fire.