EFFINGHAM — Jesse Barnes and his roommate, Devin Wolfert, had just arrived home shortly before 7 p.m. Tuesday when they heard their neighbor in the apartment below them yell, “Call 911.”
By that time, they could smell the smoke coming from the Effingham apartment. That’s when they ran downstairs.
Inside the apartment were a couple and their son. Wolfert grabbed the fire extinguisher and aimed it at the grease fire that started on the stove and was consuming the kitchen. Barnes grabbed the child and got him safely out while Wolfert ushered the couple out. Wolfert went back in a second time to further put out the flames.
The two didn’t stop there. They proceeded to make sure all the occupants in the two-story, four-unit apartment building were safely outside before firefighters arrived.
By the time the Effingham Fire Department arrived at the apartment building at 300 W. Virginia Ave., a large amount of smoke was pushing out of the first floor. Firefighters quickly gained control and extinguished the remnants of the fire, containing it to the kitchen.
The fire was started by a pan of hot oil that was left unattended on the stove and ignited kitchen cabinets and other kitchen-related items, according to the fire department. The damage is estimated at $10,000.
Fire Chief Bob Tutko credits the quick action of Barnes and Wolfert for getting everyone to safety and knocking down the fire.
“Both Mr. Wolfert and Mr. Barnes are to be commended for their life-saving actions and will be formally recognized by the fire department with a citizens commendation award,” said Tutko.
Barnes said his reaction in that short time was instinctual.
“I knew they had a kid down there, but I would have done it for anybody, honestly,” he said.
Barnes, 26, has had some experience with fires. He and his father saved a neighbor from a fire in Gays when he was around 10 years old. Barnes also worked for the St. Elmo Fire Department for a year.
The experience was a first for 30-year-old Wolfert, who didn’t hesitate to help.
“I wasn’t really worried about myself at that time,” he said.
“I’m just glad everybody’s OK and I was home, because it would have went a lot differently,” he said.