On Tuesday, first responders recounted the terrifying moments when they were called to an apartment complex in Silver Spring, Maryland, after an explosion that would displace 42 families, and how they saved one woman's life as the building next door went up in smoke as well.
Firefighters from the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service’s Montgomery Hills station were called to Friendly Garden Apartments on Lyttonsvile Road on March 3, after a building maintenance worker accidentally cut an unlabeled gas line, officials said.
The blast had come from building 2405, but in the burning structure next to it, Lt. Francisco Martinez thought he saw - through thick, black smoke - a small movement from an upper floor window.
"I noticed some fingers at an upper window," Martinez said, fingers that belonged to a trapped elderly woman.
And so, they began to work to get to her and check the building for any others who could not escape their apartments.
“If [the residents] were to open the door, they would have been immediately faced with a fiery inferno," Battalion Chief Robert Furst said.
It meant the firefighters would have to do something incredibly dangerous, something they train for: make entry using a fire hose to douse flames directly in front of them as they made their way.
The building burned and shook around them.
"I had a job to do and it was just to get water, as much water as I could on that fire while they were searching," firefighter Matt Larkin said.
First responders made their way to the woman, who turned out to be the only one left in the burning building.
The only way out was through the window to a waiting ladder.
"I helped her over the window sill. [Another firefighter] had her by the arms. I kind of helped her from behind and pushed her up into the bucket, and then once she was in there safely, I climbed in behind her," firefighter Cale Latchaw said.
At last count, a total of 14 people were injured and, miraculously, no deaths were reported.
"It could not have been done without all of us collectively doing it together. It was 100% a team effort, for sure," Martinez said.