DC Firefighter Takes Off Own Breathing Mask to Save Woman

"I love him and I love what he did," the woman's granddaughter said

A firefighter stormed into a burning apartment building in Southeast Washington, D.C., Wednesday and took off his own breathing mask to help rescue a senior citizen who had been ready to jump from a third-floor window to escape the smoke and flames.

Firefighter Danny Lovato is being hailed as a hero after he shared his air supply with Phyllis Terrell, 65, after a blaze erupted in her apartment building on the 1700 block of Minnesota Avenue SE.

Terrell and her rescuer haven't met yet, but they're being treated for smoke inhalation on the same floor of the intensive care unit at MedStar Washington Hospital Center.

Photos courtesy of Lovato family, Tyrika Terrell
D.C. Firefighter Danny Lovato; Phyllis Terrell

The fire erupted about 4 p.m. Four school resource officers on patrol at a nearby school were the first to arrive at the scene. With smoke and flames visible outside the three-story building, the officers went inside.

"It was very intense," Officer Willie Tabor said. "The smoke, as soon as we entered the building, it hit you right in the face."

The officers were able to rescue three elderly people and a dog before D.C. firefighters arrived about five minutes later.

Fire crews immediately went to work, rescuing residents and sending a ladder to Terrell, who was trapped in her top-floor apartment. Lovato climbed that ladder to where Terrell was yelling for help. 

His fellow firefighters said he then removed his face mask so he could share his air with Terrell until other firefighters could get to them.

"He was in an area where the smoke was really pushing in his face and doing his best trading [the mask] back and forth," D.C. Fire and EMS Lt. Dan White said.

Terrell's granddaughter Tyrika Terrell expressed her gratitude for Lovato.

"If it wasn't for him, she wouldn't be here," Tyrika Terrell said. "I love him and I love what he did."

Terrell was beginning to think she was going to have to jump out the window, her granddaughter said.

White said that for first-responders, the rescue was all in a day's work.

"When we go out the door, that's what we expect of ourselves," he said.

As of Thursday evening, Lovato was in fair condition and Terrell was in serious condition but much improved, burn center director Dr. Jeffrey Shupp said. The other firefighter who received minor injuries is OK.

The fire is believed to have started on the third floor, in a utility room.

Terrell is eager to thank her rescuer, her granddaughter said.

"She keeps saying that he's her hero. That's all she says. 'He's my hero,'" she said.

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