Updated December 23, 2019 - 9:15 am
A maintenance employee at the Alpine Motel Apartments is credited with saving many lives Saturday, running through smoke- and flame-filled hallways, banging on doors, urging everyone to wake up and get out.
Residents of the Alpine described the maintenance employee, whom they knew only as “Don,” as a hero. One resident anonymously identified the man as Don Bennett, and the co-owner of the building, Malinda Mier, said she knew the maintenance man as military veteran Don Bennett.
“The guy … who saved everybody’s life? His name is Don,” said Anthony Meadows Jr., 35, a resident of apartment #41 at the Alpine.
The witnesses said they believed Bennett may have been seriously injured or killed in the fire. His condition could not be independently confirmed through official sources.
Meadows said that if not for Don, he and his girlfriend likely wouldn’t have survived. Bennett knocked on Meadows’ door and was then observed racing through halls thick with smoke, banging on doors, urging people to get out just after 4 a.m., he said.
Most of the residents of the complex were sleeping.
“He was the maintenance man,” Meadows said. “He was a veteran. He stayed on the second floor in Apartment #25. Don knocked on everyone’s door and said, ‘Fire! Fire! Fire!’”
Meadows and his girlfriend told of a chaotic scene.
“Smoke!” Meadows said. “People running and jumping out of windows. A pregnant woman jumped out of a window.”
Meadows and his girlfriend eventually got out when firefighters rescued them from their apartment using a ladder.
Resident Floyd Guenther, 46, said he lives on the third floor of the Alpine. He was awake at the time of the blaze and was planning to walk to a nearby store to get a soda and some cereal. He walked to the first floor and saw the blaze burning. Guenther joined Bennett in trying to wake people up.
“I saw a glow, like a fire, so I ran back up the stairs on every floor, hitting the doors, pulling the alarm systems, and none of them went off and none of the smoke detectors went off,” Guenther said. “The maintenance guy, Don, he was trying to kick the back stairway doors open, and he couldn’t get them open. The back door to the apartment complex was bolted shut, locked up. Couldn’t get out of it.”
Guenther said he and “Don” pulled “a couple babies out of the front of the door, as many as I could, with adults, and the fire got too intense. I couldn’t do more. So we went around to the side of the building where we was catching the baby girls” from windows.
The Las Vegas Fire Department arrived and started rescuing people. Guenther said he witnessed Bennett struggling to get a back door of the building open only to find it locked.
“Don was trying to get people out of that back door and he couldn’t get it open,” Guenther said.
Calvin Salyers has been a resident of the Alpine for three years. He heard a commotion in the hallway of the complex sometime around 4 a.m.
“Honestly I thought it was somebody fighting in our hallway so I opened up the door and there’s smoke all over the place,” he said. “Nothing but smoke.”
Salyers said he heard someone “going around, knocking on doors and trying to get everyone out. ‘Fire! Get out!’”
Salyers said firefighters saved many lives by pulling people out of the burning building, and that “Don” deserved a lot of credit.
Salyers grabbed a flashlight and he and his roommate felt their way through smoky hallways but couldn’t get out. They eventually returned back to their room and waited for firefighters to rescue them.
Resident Tommy Calderilla said he heard someone he believed to be a maintenance man knocking on his door after the fire broke out.
“Decent fellow,” Calderilla said. “Helpful.”
Mier broke down in tears when asked about Bennett’s heroic actions.
“Don has a military background,” she said. “He’s a veteran. Very nice man. Always helpful.”
Of reports that Bennett didn’t survive she said, “That’s what people are speculating … he might be somewhere, hopefully. We just have to hope for the best.”