Gloucester Township, NJ—Three Rutgers University-Camden students were recognized by the Camden County Fireman’s Association for their heroic efforts in saving a 90-year-old man from his burning home in March.
The 41st Annual Firefighter’s Memorial Service was held Wednesday night, May 30 at the newly constructed “First Responder Memorial” at the Camden County Regional Emergency Training Center in Gloucester Township.
On the night of March 23, Corey Zytko, Matteo Resanovic and Jonathan Perez-Gaytan were hanging out in Resanovic and Perez-Gaytan’s apartment on the university’s campus when they got a call from two friends who had just left the apartment to alert them of a fire a block away at 206 Cooper St.
“We were like, ‘Oh, let’s go check it out, it's a fire,’” said Zytko. “So we just sprinted over there. We thought we were going to see fireman.”
They had left so fast, Resanovic said he forgot to put on shoes and had to run back for his slippers. However, when they arrived at the scene, they found no one. Not even anyone exiting the home.
“And the flames were enormous,” said Perez-Gaytan. That’s when instinct took over.
“There was no thought process,” said Resanovic, who broke a window to gain access to the home and sprinted up to the third floor to see if anyone was home. Zytko ran to alert a nearby campus security officer of the fire.
“I just broke the windows, rain upstairs, and I immediately sprinted to the third floor. I was looking around, and I could see the fire bursting from underneath the door, and I pretty much said to myself, if anyone was in there, they’re pretty much gone,” said Resanovic. “I ran from the third floor down, sweeping the rooms and that’s when I ran into Corey, JP [Perez-Gaytan] and the old man, Mr. Parker.”
The three students were able to save 90-year-old man, however, his son, a 63-year-old, was lost in the blaze.
The three students, who graduated this spring, were awarded with Camden County Fireman’s Association Civilian Meritorious Award Wednesday night, May 30, at its 41st Annual Firefighter’s Memorial Service.
“I always heard about them, and when I finally got their names, I knew they were doing this to the honor civilians, so I wanted to make sure they were recognized,” said Camden City Fire Department Chief Michael Harper. “What they did was heroic, they didn’t have to do that.”
Firefighters from Camden’s fire department were also recognized at the memorial service, and received special awards for their response to three other fires that took place in the city over the past year.
“I always think we have the best department in the land,” said Harper. “We have some really, really excellent firefighters and they perform under extreme risk. A lot of the properties that we go in and out of are dilapidated. They don’t hesitate, when the bells go off, they go to work.
“Everybody works together in a coordinated effort, and it's just an honor to be the fire chief of a department like this.”
The new “First Responder Memorial” at the Camden County Regional Emergency Training Center was unveiled by the Camden County Board of Freeholders earlier Wednesday afternoon.
This year is the first year that the First Responder Memorial is exhibited and viewed. The memorial honors all first responders who have died in the line of duty dating all the way back to the early 20th Century. In total, the memorial features the names of 68 fallen men and women, including 23 from Camden.