A Marine from Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort is being hailed as a hero after his quick actions last month saved more than 20 people from a fire spreading through a Summerville, S.C., apartment building.
Lance Cpl. Tad Steadman, an air traffic controller at the base, was working on a car with friend Mike Hassan outside the Westbury Mews Apartments about 12:30 a.m. Feb. 17 when the fire started. Together with Hassan, a U.S. Army veteran, the two cleared the building as the fire spread, alerting 23 people to the blaze.
Both men were honored for their response by Summerville's town council and fire department on March 12.
Steadman said he had noticed a small fire on a second-floor balcony, but Hassan told him the fire was in a contained pit. A few minutes later, he turned back toward the building to find the fire had spread to the furniture and was making its way up the building.
Steadman yelled for Hassan to call 911 and began sprinting toward the building to the apartment where the fire had started.
"I started banging on the door, and a woman answered," he said. "She was dazed, didn't know what was going on, but she realized once she saw the fire."
He and Hassan went door-to-door in the building, knocking on doors to get people out of the burning apartment. The two stayed in the building until the conditions drove them out.
"I only stopped once I couldn't go any farther," Steadman said. "I couldn't see above me, and parts of the ceiling were falling down. If I had gone any further, I would've been overcome by smoke. I just hoped we had got to everyone in time."
Later, they learned everyone in the building made it out safely before the fire destroyed 12 apartments. One woman was treated for smoke inhalation, but no other injuries were reported, Steadman said.
Praise began almost immediately after the fire. Steadman said several people from the building thanked him at the scene, along with a few incredulous firefighters.
"Some of the firefighters came up to us and asked if we knew who had gone into the building and got everyone out," he said. "We told them it was us, and they said, 'You went in there with no gear or training?'"
For Steadman, who's been stationed at the Beaufort air station for just more than a year, the magnitude of his quick actions didn't sink in until the March 12 Summerville council meeting.
"It's hard to process it all, but it's a pretty amazing feeling," he said.
The town's fire department and six of the people the duo saved were on hand to thank them at the town hall meeting. Both received an award for his bravery.
"I can never express the gratitude that I feel to these young men for helping us out," Westbury Mews resident Denise Forehand told Charleston news station WCIV.
Although the Mount Jackson, Va., native's mother has called him crazy for running into the burning building -- "She said I'm in trouble," he joked -- Steadman said there's no doubt he made the right choice.
"I'd do it the same way every time," he said. "It was just instincts. I could never sit by and watch someone get hurt. If we had waited after we called 911, someone would've been injured or worse."