Ricardo Martinez didn’t have much time. Or his shoes.
But the 16-year-old knew he had to do something when he and his friends heard screaming early Monday morning and ran outside to find a neighbor’s house on fire on St. Paul’s West End.
Martinez is being called a hero after he rushed into the duplex at 424 Goodrich Av. and climbed onto the roof of the front porch to help a man get out of the burning home.
“As I was going into the house I was thinking, ‘What if the floorboards go out? Or it collapses and I get stuck in there?’ ” said Martinez several hours later, flanked by friends.
“But I still had that thinking that, if I don’t do something now he may not make it. So I just did my best.”
By the time fire crews arrived shortly after 12:30 a.m., Martinez was on the roof of the front porch with the man he helped. Firefighters entered the home to recover a second man, who was unconscious, said St. Paul Assistant Fire Chief Jim Smith.
The victims, who were not identified, were taken to Regions Hospital, where their condition was unclear Monday night.
Officials have determined that the fire was caused by arson and they are investigating a person of interest, Smith said. The back of the house sustained the most fire damage, and the garage, which had containers of flammable gases such as MAPP, was destroyed when some of the gas exploded.
Martinez and three friends had been working on some music at a home across the street when they heard screaming. One of them looked out of the window and saw the fire. As they went outside, Martinez phoned for help.
Then he took off his tank top, put it around his face and went through the front door. He got to the steps to the second floor before the thick smoke forced him back outside, Martinez said.
One of the teens found a neighbor’s ladder, and Martinez quickly scaled it to climb to the roof above the house’s porch. When Martinez reached the top, he saw in the window a man who was trying to rescue his brother. Martinez told him to come with him and was able to get him out on the roof. But when he went through a window and called through the smoke to the other man, after a few seconds there was no answer.
Realizing he couldn’t stay there, he went back out on the porch. By that time, fire crews had arrived.
Martinez “was definitely instrumental in getting that first person out,” Smith said.
Late Monday afternoon, Jacki Venable, 19, who lives next door to the fire scene, stopped to tell Martinez that the family of the men they helped wanted his phone number.
“You saved two people’s lives,” she said.
Martinez’s friends said they were proud of him, even though they admitted not being quite as supportive at the time of the fire.
“I really thought it was a dumb idea at first but when he was pulling people out I was like, dang,” said Tariq Deleon, 16.
Does Martinez think of himself as a hero?
“I just felt that I had to do what I had to do,” he said. “If that’s what a hero is, then I suppose.”