Infamous as a drug haven, Kalihi’s Akepo Lane can now also be called the home of a hero.
An elderly man was rescued from his burning first-floor studio apartment at Akepo and North King Street by neighbors late Tuesday night.
The man who stepped into the apartment to pull out the victim was Gerald Arthur, 61, who had lived in the building himself until he was evicted about three months ago.
"I lost my job, my old lady lost hers, we couldn’t pay the rent," Arthur said. He moved into his car, "the Honda Inn," parked a few hundred yards down Akepo. His girlfriend, who he said is suffering from cancer, is now staying with family in Ewa Beach.
About 10:41 p.m. Tuesday, Arthur was at a friend’s house on the second floor of the apartment when he heard a commotion downstairs.
Witness accounts said five or six men tried to break into the unit to save an elderly tenant, who was not identified yesterday.
At first, the rescuers ran to the back of the building, jumped a fence and tried to remove the jalousies, but the smoke was too thick, Arthur said.
So they went back to the front door and tried to break it down.
Teoderico "Rico" Santana, 29, who lives in the building next door, was among those helping.
"There was thick, black smoke coming out of the door," Santana said. The rescuers used a crowbar to break the door, which was latched with a large deadbolt. He estimated it took between five and 10 minutes to crack it open.
When the lock was broken, rescuers still had difficulty entering through the door. They found out later the injured man was on the other side, blocking it, Santana said.
With others forcing the door open, Arthur made his way into the unit and began feeling around the floor.
"He’s the one who basically pulled him out," Santana said of Arthur.
"I felt an arm, and I grabbed ahold of it," Arthur said.
Meanwhile, the other men were trying to put out the fire through the door with a hose from a nearby emergency case about 30 feet away.
When the tenant was pulled out of the apartment, he was moaning and his face was black. But Arthur said he recognized him as an elderly Asian man he exchanged greetings with nearly every morning in the neighborhood.
The man, who neighbors said was often seen walking with a cane and appeared to be partially paralyzed, was taken to Straub Clinic & Hospital in serious condition, an official with the Department of Emergency Services said.
Arthur said he inhaled a lot of smoke during the rescue, but he refused treatment.
Capt. Terry Seelig, Honolulu Fire Department spokesman, said a fire investigator determined the fire was caused by a hot plate that caught fire while the tenant was sleeping. Damage was estimated at $12,000 to the room and contents.
As Arthur recounted the drama, first-floor resident Sita Sprague spotted him, high-fived him and yelled, "That’s my hero! Right on, my brother!"
But Arthur, who said he is Vietnam veteran and won commendations for valor, said he doesn’t view himself as a hero. "It was just something I had to do. I knew somebody was in there."
He added: "I’m not a hero or anything like that. It’s just a man helping save a fellow human being."