Steven Gifford was just parking his car on Tuesday evening just in front of the Kappa Sigma Fraternity and was on his way to class when he smelled smoke and saw flames at "The Villa," a shelter run by InnVision in San Jose for women and children.
As an off-duty first responder, Gifford sprang into action.
"The adrenaline was rushing but I’m a certified EMT so it’s kind of act first, think second," he said.
Gifford and few fraternity brothers at San Jose State University ran in the building, yelling and knocking on doors.
He bumped into Sierra Harris, 14, and her 13-year-old brother, whom he helped. The teens recalled the commotion.
"'Do you need help with anything?’" Sierra recounted Gifford saying. "And I was like ‘What are you talking about?’ and they were like ‘There’s a fire there’s a fire, there’s a fire! And I was like, Mom we got to get out, there’s a fire there’s a fire there’s a fire!'"
Gifford made sure everyone got out safely and was accounted for. San Jose firefighters put out the flames. They said they believe the fire started on an outdoor patio on the third floor. The residents of The Villa boarded a VTA bus and took the women to two other shelters.
InnVision's Brian Greenberg said they were grateful no one was hurt, and he was thankful to Gifford and his friends.
"Nothing stopped me from going in just making everyone got and knew that there was a fire," Gifford said. "I feel good but you don’t do it for the credit, you do it to make sure everybody gets out."