The Human Fire Ladder
Steve Dart is an hour late for our meeting at Coach's, a west-side bar that tonight, coincidentally, is hosting a dart tournament. He's late because he fell asleep on the couch watching Spiderman cartoons -- a perfectly appropriate excuse, given that Dart's been in the spotlight lately for scaling a tall building. Actually, Dart and two of his buddies didn't climb the three-story Glendale apartment building when it caught fire last month; they created a three-man-high human fire ladder, standing atop one another's shoulders to rescue a woman and her 2-year-old daughter from the top floor.
Regardless of his hero status, Dart's 15 minutes of fame hasn't gone to his head. He swears he isn't a hero and wonders if he can't parlay his newfound skill for rescue into a full-time job.
New Times: You rescued people from a burning building! What happened?
Steve Dart: I heard some loud noises but I didn't think anything of it. It sounded like gunshots, so it was like no big deal. But then I knew something was up because the hair on my arms stood up -- that's how I can tell when something's wrong, you know? And so I looked out my window and there was this apartment building just majorly on fire about 30 yards from my apartment. I heard this woman screaming, and I walked over there and was looking around at the flames, and then I noticed they were trying to hand this little girl down from the third-floor apartment. Then a friend of mine climbed up and was hanging onto the balcony, and I climbed up onto him to help get this woman and her kid down.
NT: There was no ladder around?
Dart: Well, we didn't really think about a ladder. We were just like, "Let's get them down out of that blaze!" Because the building could have exploded, man. When we got the woman down, then one of the maintenance guys brought a ladder and we went, "Oh, yeah, man."
NT: Whose idea was it to build a human ladder to reach these folks?
Dart: Really, nobody's. We didn't think about what we were gonna do or how we were gonna do it. There was a tree there and we were debating whether she should jump off her balcony into the tree and then climb down it. I don't want to sound discriminating or anything, but a man could have probably climbed down the tree, but not a female. So we just started to climb up there after her.
NT: And what was going through your mind at the time?
Dart: Actually, nothing. We were just, you know, doing it. It was just like, "Have to get them down, have to get them down." There was nothing in my head. It was empty.
NT: Were you scared?
Dart: No. I was concentrating too hard to be scared. Just, you know, concentrating on getting them down.
NT: So you were the guy on the bottom of the ladder. That must have been a drag.
Dart: Um, I was holding onto two people, and I was holding onto the people who were coming down from the fire. So, it was like, I was too busy to be uncomfortable. I don't know, maybe that's something you do when you have more free time -- being uncomfortable.
NT: Did they climb down on you?
Dart: Yeah, pretty much.
NT: Well, that must have hurt. What if you had dropped them?
Dart: Yeah, I thought about it, because there was a metal railing down there by the ground, and it would have really hurt to hit that on the way down. But getting dropped by some guys from way up high would be better than getting burned, you know?
NT: Well, sure. Has there been any infighting among you guys since the big rescue? Sort of squabbling about which one of you is the biggest hero?
Dart: Me and Ron have been hanging out a little more. The other guy moved. But there was no bigger hero. I mean, it's cool that we saved this woman, but it's not that big a deal. It doesn't happen every day, but sometimes you're just walking down the street and a house catches fire, you know what I'm saying?
NT: Not where I live. If one did, I might run away.
Dart: Yeah, there were a lot of people just standing around watching the building burn when I got there. One guy was just talking on the cell phone, telling his friend what it looked like. Some other guy was yelling to the woman, "Hurry up and get out of there; you're running out of time!" Which was just making her hysterical, because she was trapped. Nobody was yelling, "Jump," but you know it was gonna happen any minute.
NT: Ultimately, there was kind of a happy ending.
Dart: Well, if you think of what could have happened, there was. When I heard the screams, my biggest fear was that I was gonna go outside and see someone running around on fire, and that would have been, you know, kind of bad. But it's not like I would have just stood there and watched her. I would have jumped on her and put the fire out.
NT: Rather than call a friend on your cell phone to tell him what she looked like while she was burning. So, do you think you'll keep in touch with these people you saved?
Dart: I never really thought about that. They're kind of like strangers. The mom called me a couple of times to thank me, but I just never really got around to talking to her.
NT: Have you seen them since?
Dart: Oh. Well, when we got certified by the fire department, I saw them then. But not since then.
NT: Certified as what?
Dart: I don't know. Well, the people at the fire station said it was for saving somebody's life. We just went down there to get appreciated, you know. We got some kind of certificate for what we did.
NT: So you're a hero.
Dart: No way, man. I don't see myself as a hero. A hero is someone who saves someone's life and dies doing it. I just did a good deed, you know? I would expect someone to do it for me, if I was hanging out and my house just started to go up in flames.
NT: How is your life different now?
Dart: Well, people say, "Hey, you did a good job!" And we were in a bunch of newspapers and on the TV. The Glendale paper, they had a real big article. With a caption and everything. I don't see myself getting famous or anything off of this, but I thought maybe like David Letterman would call. But even if he did, it wouldn't be like I was famous. If they made a movie out of this, you know, they would just hire actors to play the guys in the story, so nobody would really know who we are. So the actor would be more in the spotlight, you know, than me. No one would know it was me. It would be like "based on a true story," but then you never see the real guy. Like in Saving Private Ryan. Except that guy died at the end and I didn't.
NT: Do you want to be fireman?
Dart: I've had thoughts about it, but you know, I don't know. It's a 24-hour thing, but what if something was on fire and you didn't feel like going to put it out? You know? And what if I quit my job to be a fireman and then at the end it turned out I didn't like it? That would be a drag. Plus a major risk.
NT: What is your day job?
Dart: I'm a warehouse worker. I pull produce for Fry's, at a Kroger's warehouse.
NT: Have you thought about going into business, rescuing things with your friends? You could retrieve cats caught in trees, or retrieve Frisbees from rooftops.
Dart: I've thought about it, and I've done roof work before, so I wouldn't have no problem climbing up on roofs. I was thinking about if this could be a business, but I kind of doubt if there would be enough to make an occupation out of it. That's why they invented ladders, you know.
NT: Can I call you guys if my house catches fire?
Dart: No way! That's what the fire department is for.
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