Uber driver dove into burning building, but took passenger to airport anyway
Fritz Sam has made thousands of trips since becoming an Uber driver in 2015. Until Wednesday, he had never stopped to save people from a burning building.
Around 8 a.m., Sam was driving a passenger from Brooklyn, New York, to LaGuardia Airport when he noticed people in their pajamas gaping and pointing phones at a walk-up in the city’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. At first he thought the ruckus had been caused by a fight, but when a piece of debris fell from a second-story window, he realized the building was in flames.
With his passenger’s permission, he stopped to assess the situation. And when someone said there were still residents inside, Sam says a flip swung through his brain and he rushed into the smoky property.
“I have tunnel vision in these situations,” Sam, 54, told CNBC Make It. “I don’t want to get hurt, but when people need help, I just want to do the right thing.”
Sam says he spent about six minutes inside and guided two residents by hand out of the building. One of them told them that it was their air conditioner that had caught fire. She seemed to be in shock and hesitated to leave the hallway.
“I looked at her and said, ‘I won’t leave until you leave,'” he says.
Firefighters entered the building as he helped a second person out. Sam says he spent a few minutes checking on the people he was helping, then someone tapped him on the shoulder and handed him his keys. In all the chaos, he had parked in front of a fire hydrant and another passerby parked his car down the block.
He had also unknowingly handed his phone to someone standing outside the building. It was quickly returned.
“It was about finding the right people in the right place at the right time,” Sam explains. “The passenger wasn’t like, ‘Oh, let’s go.’ She cared too.”
The passenger, a writer named Jemimah Wei, tells CNBC Make It that she followed Sam down the sidewalk and joined the chorus of people yelling at residents to evacuate. She says she was touched by Sam’s “strong moral compass”.
Finally, Sam and Wei got back in the car and arrived at the airport on time. Wei later tweeted photos of the fire, commenting, “People are fine.”
The thread has gone viral.
Sam says he doesn’t consider his actions that spectacular. “There’s nothing special about me,” he says. “I think it’s in everyone.”
He says his parents owned a yellow cab company when he was growing up, and he once stopped to check on someone whose car had caught fire. “I hope I never have to do something like that again, but I can’t say I won’t,” Sam says. you.”
Over the phone, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi asked Sam for his story and thanked him for his efforts, Sam says. The company released a statement expressing gratitude for having “such a heroic and caring member [in] our community.”
Sam says he hasn’t been compensated for his actions and doesn’t expect to be.
“In the service industry, it’s our job to take care of passengers and people,” he says. “I think it’s in my nature to want to do small things that can make a big difference.”
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