Two friends who barely knew their neighbors are being honored for their rescue of a toddler and her grandfather during a dramatic high-rise fire on the westside of Los Angeles last week.
Sasha Poparic and Pamela Day were among the residents of the 386-unit Barrington Plaza apartments who saw their 25-story building on fire on Oct. 18.
Dark smoke and flames poured from the windows of an 11th-floor unit, and more than 200 firefighters responded to a chaotic, dangerous scene in the Brentwood area.
Three firefighters and five residents of the building were injured by the fire. Two of the seriously hurt residents were encountered by Poparic and Day.
Inside the building, neither of the neighbors heard fire alarms, and by the time they tried to escape, smoke clogged the stairwells.
“The problem was we couldn’t escape. We tried,” said Day, whose apartment is on the 23rd floor. “We were trapped.”
Poparic received a text message from a neighbor whom he had met just once in the elevator. The man asked Poparic to check on his young daughter and the girl’s grandfather, saying no one had come to assist the pair.
Poparic ventured into the stairwell, but the smoke was so heavy, he had to cover his face with a towel. He didn’t see the girl and her grandfather. Returning to his apartment, he texted the neighbor that the two could not be found.
Meanwhile, Poparic and Day were yelling at each other from their neighboring balconies, trying to figure out how to escape the fire.
The father, Ivo Gerscovich, who was on the ground outside the apartment building, begged Poparic via text message to try again.
He did. In a stairwell, he found the two, unconscious. The grandfather was cradling his 2-year-old granddaughter in his arm.
“I saw a scene out of war zone,” Poparic said.
The two appeared dead, Day said.
“I’m not a firefighter, I’m not a paramedic. I’ve never been in this situation,” Poparic recalled in an on-set appearance with Day on the KTLA 5 Morning News Wednesday.
“Instead of panicking, I said, what else is to be done? I just jumped on that little girl and I was giving her CPR for the first time in my life,” Poparic said. “Suddenly she opened her eyes and she started vomiting blood and black stuff out of her mouth.”
He took the child to Day’s apartment, and Day began screaming and throwing things off her 23rd-floor balcony in an effort to get firefighters’ attention.
Eventually, the little girl and her grandfather were taken to the roof of the building, where firefighters treated them, appearing to perform CPR on the toddler. Both were soon transported to area hospitals, where the little girl was in critical condition.
On Wednesday, the girl was continuing a “very difficult recovery,” her parents, Eva and Ivo Gerscovich, said in a statement emailed to KTLA.
One of the few “bright spots” of the fire is that the family is now “forever intertwined” with Poparic and Day, the Gerscovichs wrote. Their child now has “a new Uncle Sasha and Auntie Pamela,” the parents said.
“Sasha and Pamela, who were upstairs neighbors we only recognized by sight a few short days ago, have entered our lives in the most heroic and selfless of ways,” the statement read. “The character, courage, sense of urgency and desire to not accept a seemingly hopeless and rapidly worsening situation, was clearly the key to my severely injured family’s survival. We truly don’t have the words to thank these heroes.”
Day has learned an important lesson from the fire, she said, one that’s crucial for all Angelenos isolated in their cars and homes.
“The real lesson here is: know your neighbors’ phone numbers,” Day said. “Reach out to them. Even if you don’t like them, have their phone numbers.”