Houston apartment complex fire: Firefighter, survivor recall fast decisions as inferno raged

Houston firefighter and worker describe drama... 03:25

A dramatic rescue unfolded at a Houston apartment complex fire on Tuesday. Every second was captured on cell phone video, but for the men in the video, each of those seconds meant the difference between life and death.

As flames engulfed the apartment complex under construction, Houston Fire Senior Captain Brad Hawthorne knew he and his team needed to move quickly.

"In this business, we got a term you call 'risk a lot you save a lot'," Hawthorne said. "Well, it was when you're talking somebody's life, that's a lot. In a viable save, you risk more, you stretch yourself out there."

Construction supervisor Curtis Reissig could hear the fire engines outside, but he wasn't prepared for how fast the flames would spread. Within minutes, he was trapped. Reissig said, "When I got to the window, it was jammed. I couldn't get out. I thought, 'Well, I am going to die right here, I'm going to say a prayer to get me out of here."

Finally, Reissig was able to get outside, but he was stranded five stories up.

He said, "I dropped to the fourth-floor patio, and in my mind, I was going through the whole scenario What can I do? How am I going to drop? How am I going to swing?"

Hawthorne said he could hear the roar of the fire. He said, "As we're doing that, we are lowering the ladder to him, he jumps from the fifth to the fourth floor. As he gets to the fourth floor, it's still radiating heat. I was on the ladder in full gear, and it was still really hot."

Now one floor down, Reissig still had to wait for the ladder and Hawthorne to reach him.

Hawthorne recalled when Reissig finally made it onto the ladder safely they "kind of sat there." He added, "As the ladder moved away from the building, we kind of slapped each other's hands, and smiled and (Reissig said) 'Thank you, Jesus'."

Just seconds later, the building collapsed behind them. Hawthorne said, "You could hear a snap, crack when it was falling, and then seconds later you feel the heat, the push of heat and that radiating heat comes out."

Hawthorne said the flames came within about 10 feet of them.

Hawthorne and Reissig were lowered to safety on the ground and parted ways after a brief thank you.

"It makes you appreciate life ... your friends, you family your co-workers," Hawthorne said. "It kind of gives you a little perspective. It makes you take a deep breath, and thank God for what you have."

Officials in Houston are investigating the possibility that a welder's torch sparked the fire.