Zachary Salce and Maddison Henslin heard the fire alarms and smelled smoke on Tuesday night.
A quick check found a fire gaining steam in a nearby apartment at the Vandenberg Village Apartments. They could hear calls for help.
Salce knew he needed to get inside. Fast. “I kicked the door in,” he recounted.
He and Henslin navigated the home on the floor and the smoke billowed.
“We weren’t concerned about anything other than getting her out,” said Henslin. “I think that has a lot to say about what we know, what we’ve learned and how we get into that mindset.”
They found their neighbor, a 60-year-old disabled woman, and dragged her from the apartment.
Within minutes, firefighters arrived. But without the help of Salce and Henslin, the woman may not have survived.
“What they did was nothing short of heroic,” said Mike Eliason, Santa Barbara County Fire PIO. “If they didn’t go into action, the outcome would have been different.”
The two come from a bloodline of helping people and staying cool under pressure. Henslin is the daughter of a detective. Salce, a son of a Five Cities Fire battalion chief, is a sheriff’s custody deputy.
He had completed a training drill for the exact same situation.
“We actually had to go into a smoke-filled room and drag a dummy out. I definitely kept that in mind when I was going through the house trying to figure out what was going on,” Salce said.
The woman is recovering. She suffered minor injuries from the fire.
“It’s super neat to be able to know that you did something and you helped,” said Henslin.
Salce said it is a reminder of how effective staying aware can be to help save someone in need.
“It’s hard sometimes. You have to know what the different noises are and if you smell the smoke, don’t just sit there and think nothing of it. It could be something serious,” he said. “So don’t be complacent of your surroundings.”
They have not been able to speak with the woman they rescued yet.
The cause of the fire will likely be released in the coming days.