This story is heartbreaking but it’s also heroic. Two men who didn’t know each other before last week rescued the children of a complete stranger when an apartment in Phoenix caught on fire. The first save was caught on video and is like something out of a movie rather than real life.
As a teenager a decade ago at Kalamazoo Central High School in Michigan, Phillip Blanks was a star football player. Last week, his athletic instincts helped save a toddler from an apartment fire that killed the child’s mother.
Blanks, now 28 and a retired U.S. Marine, was at a friend’s apartment in Phoenix on Friday morning when he heard frantic screaming and a commotion. He immediately ran outside, barefoot, and saw the top floor of the apartment complex was ablaze and enveloped in smoke.
He looked up and saw a petrified woman on a third-floor balcony with a child. Flames quickly crept up behind her.
“People started yelling for the lady to throw her kids down,” Blanks said.
Blanks said he got “tunnel vision” when he saw the child falling. There was another man standing closer but Blanks reacted quicker. At the last second he dove and caught the falling 3-year-old boy before he landed in the rocks and then carried him away. Here’s the video:
The tragic part of the story is that the 30-year-old mother didn’t survive. After dropping her toddler son to safety she went back inside, probably to try and rescue her 8-year-old daughter who was still in the apartment, and succumbed to the smoke.
Fortunately, there was a second hero there that day in the form of 42-year-old D’Artagnan Alexander, a barber who happened to be passing by on his way to do some shopping. He heard there were kids inside and ran up the stairs into the flaming 3rd floor. “I heard someone scream for help and I found the girl on the floor and carried her outside,” he said. Alexander had rescued the 8-year-old sibling of the boy who’d been dropped off the balcony.
In the chaos after the fire, with over 100 police and firefighters at the scene, Alexander and Blanks never met. But they both learned about the other and wanted to meet. Eventually, Blanks got Alexander’s phone number from a reporter and texted him. The two met and now say they feel bonded for life by the experience.
The two men also met with the father of the two children they rescued, Corey Long, who was at work when the fire happened. Long didn’t want to be interviewed for the Post story, but there’s a photo of him in the story with his arm around Blanks and Alexander. Blanks said of the mood of that encounter, “We became family, all three of us.”
There’s a racial element to this story which really cuts against the grain of a lot of what is in the media these days. Phillip Blanks and D’Artagnan Alexander are black. Corey Long and his children are white. None of that mattered for even an instant in the midst of this disaster. As Alexander, who has two kids of his own, said, “I didn’t have time to think, my body just kicked into action and I went in.” That’s the kind of thing that real life heroes say.
I’ll leave the larger lessons for the reader to ponder but here’s what this story says to me: We’re all capable of being heroes for each other and race doesn’t have to enter into it. It feels like some people have forgotten that.