HILTON HEAD ISLAND, SC (WTOC) - Hilton Head Island firefighters responded to a massive fire at the Sea Cloisters apartment complex on Starfish Drive, around 7:30 a.m. Sunday.
Upon arrival, crews quickly determined an elderly man was trapped inside his bedroom on the third floor of the five-story building and required rescuing.
"I could hear the gentleman screaming, so we made a decision to try and stay in there as long as we could to see if we could locate him without being overcome by fire," said Captain Dave Bell, Hilton Head Island Fire Rescue.
That decision took crews inside the burning bedroom, where they recovered the elderly man trapped inside. They escorted him down the fire engine's ladder, escaping to safety.
Frightening cell phone video taken by a neighbor captured the moment firefighters rescue the victim tapped inside as the building went up in flames:
The video has been viewed by more than 100,000 people on WTOC's Facebook page in the past 24 hours.
"We have a saying in the fire service where we risk a lot to save a lot, and this was a situation, a textbook situation, that fit that," said Captain Bell.
Strong coastal winds coming off the beachfront view, close condo quarters, and an older building without a sprinklers built in were all factors making the three-story rescue that much harder.
"It's kind of surreal. You just fall back on your training and hope you've done enough - and I guess I have, so it worked out well," said Joe Zoffoli, Fire Apparatus Operator.
"We never think anything that we do is heroic. It's our job, it's what we love to do. To us, it's a career that we chose, and we're happy to do it," said Lt. Jay Lawson, Hilton Head Island Fire Rescue.
The man who was saved from the apartment suffered smoke inhalation, but he is expected to be okay. His apartment and two dogs, unfortunately, did not survive the fire.
The department says the capturing of this successful rescue on video is rare and shows just how much damage this fire may have caused if things had taken a turn for the worst.
"We don't usually have video proof of what's happened. And hopefully, it can show people the dangers of this job and how quickly things can turn for the worst. I kind of preach to the crews that we don't get to pick the days and the times when we have a bad call. It's gonna come whether we expect it or not," said Cpt. Bell.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation. Officials do not believe it is suspicious.
Investigators say the fire originated in Unit 307, which sustained major fire damage. The fire damage was contained to the unit of origin with surrounding units receiving minor smoke and water damage. No other injuries were reported.
Four engine companies, a truck company, three medic units, the Battalion Chief, and various chief officers all responded to the scene.