Sitting beside the two firefighters who saved him from a five-alarm fire, construction supervisor Curtis Reissig was thankful to be able to tell his story on TODAY Thursday.
"I was running away from the inferno, trying to save myself,'' Reissig told Savannah Guthrie. "These guys run to and into infernos to try to save other people. I shouldn't even be here. These guys, they deserve all the praise and accolades."
Reissig, 56, went to the fifth floor of a $50 million, 396-unit apartment complex in Houston on Tuesday to investigate a report of a fire. The blaze quickly escalated, forcing Reissig to exit onto a balcony. As the heat got worse, he jumped to a balcony on the floor below.
"It was pretty much just a survival instinct,'' Reissig said. "The heat was so intense...that (jumping to the lower balcony) was the only option. I think I was just super-focused, trying to make sure everything turned out right."
Houston firefighter Dwayne Wyble was able to drive a truck close enough to get a ladder within a foot or two of where Reissig was trapped. Captain Brad Hawthorne then crawled up the ladder to help bring Reissig to safety. Reissig jumped from the balcony on to the ladder, which was captured on a cell phone video shot by Karen Jones, a woman who was working across the street.
"I told him to hold up for a second to get the ladder to the right angle and all,'' Hawthorne told Guthrie. "He held up. He was very calm, cool, and then I kind of waved him on and then he made a leap forward. I told him to hold on; it's going to be a little jerky on the way down."
"It's incredible to see it on film because when I was living it. I saw the flames coming from the front side of the building, but I didn't realize it had reached to that magnitude around the backside and around the corner,'' Reissig said. "Basically, I was on the last corner of the building that didn't burn."
Moments after Reissig reached the ladder, Wyble maneuvered it away from the building before a large section of the building wall collapsed from the flames.
"Like Curtis said, we had no idea there was that much fire and how fast it moved, but I knew once he was on the end of it, I knew Captain Hawthorne was in a position to protect both of them, and I could move it away as quickly as possible,'' Wyble told Guthrie. "But it surprised every one of us how quickly it came down after they were on there."
Reissig suffered a mild burn on one of his hands and the right side of his face along with a sprained ankle. After he was rescued, he worked the rest of his shift for the day before going home. The cause of the fire is under investigation.
The speed with which the fire spread caught Reissig off guard. His primary area of supervision in the building was the clubhouse, so he was not as familiar with the back side of the building where he became trapped.
"It was pretty well contained,'' he said. "It wasn't spreading at that point. I went down below and looked and it wasn't spreading. My boss actually called me and said, 'Where are you at?' And I said, 'I'm up here,' and he said, 'You need to get down now.' And so when I started to come down, that's when I saw the smoke down below that it had started to spread, and from there I knew I was in trouble. I knew it was not going to be easy to get out."