Security guards Sharda Sims and Shawn Wertz haven’t been trained on how to respond to fires, they said. However, when they saw smoke emerging from one of the buildings at Fox Ridge Apartments Tuesday morning, they knew exactly what to do.
“We were monitoring a location and my supervisor [Wertz] seen smoke coming out of the door,” Sims said. “So instantly we took off and ran over there. Then we wanted to try to get everybody out.”
Sims and Wertz are employed with Statewide Security. They said the fire broke out around 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. on Tuesday September 8. They do not know which unit it was coming from, but they entered the building any way and encountered a thick cloud of smoke that was ‘pouring’ out of doors and windows.
Sims began knocking on doors, she said.
“I was banging on everybody’s door. And I ran upstairs banging on all those doors too,” recalled Sim, who knocked on at least 20 doors. “[Wertz] actually had the worst part because it was in the basement level. He was in the smoke, like it was very smoky when I came down.”
Sims said the smoke was so thick it was hard to see and breathe. However for Wertz, it was familiar territory. He recently trained with the police academy at Kalamazoo Valley Community College and got certified in firefighting.
“I went downstairs, saw the smoke and all that memory just came back,” Wertz said. “Yup, like 'we got to close this door and get everybody out as soon as possible because this is not going to turn out well if we do not put this out.'”
The smoke was so thick, Wertz said, that he had to abandon it. So he went outside and began breaking windows, encouraging people to come out that way.
“We carried people out through windows the best we could,” Wertz said. “Once we made sure everybody was out, [KDPS] was already on scene and then they took over from there.”
Wertz and Sims said they don’t know what caused the fire however it’s still under investigation.
“I’m just relieved that nobody was hurt,” Sims said. “I told my dad and he’s like ‘you’re a hero’ but I’m just doing my job.”