Three Black teenagers who sprung into action to save occupants of a burning building are being called heroes, but one of the rescuers said helping others in danger is a normal reaction.
The young men hope their actions inspire others to help those in need.
“I just know if I had my nan or mum in a building … I wish people did that because nowadays I’ve seen people only care for themselves, so I hope this changes people and it becomes a domino effect where everyone starts to help in any way,” Zakariya Ibrahim, 18, said.
Ibrahim, Sakariye Digaale and a third individual known as Saaed were near a community center in east London when they heard an explosion and saw smoke, The Independent reports. They reportedly started knocking on doors and alerted residents that the building was on fire and they needed to evacuate. Digaale rescued a disabled man, carrying him on his back to safety.
“There were five of us. We all had different roles. I said I’d find disabled people and another friend was pointing people to the exits,” Digaale, 18, told the Big Issue.
“I heard that there was a guy on the fourth floor who I had heard was deaf and blind, so I was trying to go to him to rescue him out of the building. So I put him on my back and took him down the stairs.”
It took 15 fire trucks and 100 firefighters to put out the blaze. Just one of the apartments was “significantly damaged.” Officials said firefighters had to enter the building with breathing apparatus to save a man on the second floor. A total of five residents had to be rescued by firefighters. Three of them were hospitalized after being rescued by crews with fire escape hoods.
Mohamed Rahman, 29, was also part of the Good Samaritan rescue group and had to be rushed to the hospital for vomiting soot.
Digaale said he feared he could get hurt, but that didn’t detour him.
“Luckily, we weren’t hurt, but there was a lot of debris flying around, which ended up injuring some people around, like one man who was walking his dog,” Digaale said. “We were cautious about entering the building, but at that point, it really was ‘fight or flight.’ We tried to save as many lives as we could.”
The group was on their way to the Young Black Men project, a support group for Somali and Black people in east London. The founder of the organization behind the project, Abdi Hassan, said he was “so proud” of the teenagers, and “too often the narrative is different” when it comes to portraying young Black men in the media.
Digaale doesn’t think their actions were heroic, but he hopes it will change the misconceptions people have about them.
“Being a Muslim, we’re trying to help guys. That could have been a dad, that could have been anyone,” he added. “And everyone’s thinking I’m a hero now, and I’m thinking this is normal,” he said. “I’m conscious of how society often views Black people and Muslims but, honestly, the lessons that my friends and I learned at a young age remind us that every life is valued.”