'I could hardly breathe': Residents describe escaping Schaumburg apartment fire
With thick smoke blocking her front door, Tanya Bryant made her way to the third-floor balcony of her Remington Place apartment in Schaumburg. But she didn't want to be a bother.
"They seemed really busy," Bryant, 55, says of the firefighters she saw scurrying around on the ground while battling the early Saturday blaze that injured six residents and a firefighter and left six apartments, including hers, uninhabitable. "There had to be people worse off than me."
Able to grab pants, a sweater and shoes, Bryant calmly waited between five and 10 minutes on her balcony until the smoke found her.
"I could hardly breathe," Bryant remembers. "I started yelling, 'I'm up here!'"
Schaumburg firefighters used their flashlight to spot her, and quickly brought her down on a ladder.
"I was sleeping when the fire started," Bryant says, noting that she simply woke on her own. "I didn't hear an alarm. I just feel like it was my guardian angel."
A Christian woman who volunteers at Willow Creek Community Church programs to help at-risk teens and the homeless, Bryant says she became the recipient of help from American Red Cross volunteers.
"They were so kind," Bryant said of the volunteers who got her a blanket, gave her a debit card to deal with immediate expenses and offered round-the-clock help. "I just thank God for the Red Cross."
A flight attendant, Bryant says her United Airlines team got her a pizza and found a replacement for her on the flight she'd miss. Remington Place already has another, newer apartment for her to move into soon.
Help can come from unusual places.
"I'm using my boss' shoes," said Michael Novak, 25, an engineering recruiter who moved into the Remington Place apartments in December.
He was allowed back into his second-floor apartment during his lunch break Monday to grab his own shoes.
"Fortunately, my shirts were at the dry cleaners," he said.
Staying at a hotel until he is allowed to move back in has been frustrating, Novak said. But other residents faced bigger issues.
Two residents trapped on the third floor were hospitalized in serious condition after they leapt from the building to escape the flames. Several residents reported hearing an explosion before the fire, but the cause of the fire is still under investigation, Schaumburg Fire Department Deputy Chief Dan Johnson said Monday afternoon.
The building's fire alarm went off and triggered the monitoring system at the central fire station, Johnson said. Once firefighters were in route, residents started calling 911 saying they smelled smoke, and firefighters found a working fire at the scene, he said.
"The alarm did what it was supposed to do -- it went off, it notified us, it got companies responding, so that's a good thing," he said.
Johnson said he doesn't believe the building had fire sprinklers. "We believe there is a dry wall and a fire wall between the attic spaces that kept the fire from spreading to the adjacent six-unit buildings," he said.
The fire injured six residents, including the two hospitalized, and one Schaumburg firefighter was treated for heat exhaustion. Johnson said he couldn't comment on any of the injuries.
Novak and Bryant say insurance companies also are involved in helping them recover.
"I'm probably in better shape than most," Bryant says, acknowledging all the help. "It's important to volunteer."