For Ben Stottlemyer, Manuel “Manny” Arieta and Steven “Bucky” Long, June 7 started out as a normal day on their curbside recycling route.
Just before 9 a.m., the three Ecology Services Refuse and Recycling employees noticed smoke shooting out of town houses in the 500 block of Carrollton Drive in Frederick.
Long took out his phone and started to record the fire.
“First, I started recording, seeing how big the fire was,” Long said. “Then, I see Manny in my camera running toward the doors. And my driver’s going knocking on doors, I got to go follow him. We started knocking on doors, [screaming], ‘Hey, hey, there’s a fire! You have to get out! Get out, get out, get out!’”
On Tuesday, County Executive Jan Gardner, Frederick Mayor Michael O’Connor and other public officials recognized the three and several other civilians and first responders for their actions in a ceremony at Winchester Hall.
Arieta, like Long, said he was transfixed by the size of the flames and smoke coming out of the homes.
But then, he knew he needed to act. He ran across the street, banging on the front door next to the house where the fire started. Long and Stottlemyer soon followed him.
“I saw the flames and immediately thought, ‘what if people are still in there?’” Arieta said. “We got out of the truck, and honestly, yeah, we were just going to watch. And I was honestly going to grab my phone and call 911, but seven other people were already calling 911, and I figured, what’s the point of someone else calling 911?”
The three men worked their way down the row of town houses. Eventually, they got to the last house, and banged on the door for several minutes.
Stottlemyer said Long ran around to the back of that house, trying to find a way in. Eventually, there was only one option: kicking the door in.
“That last door, we were just knocking on it forever,” Stottlemyer said. “Bucky went around back. ... And some lady was screaming something across the street, and that’s when we kind of kicked it in. It was the only way in. [You never know] if there was a baby in there, [who] can’t get the door, a little kid, someone sleeping.”
They quickly ran through the house and found no one inside. At that point, police officers and first responders arrived, and he, Arieta and Long returned to work on their recycling route.
At Tuesday’s ceremony, Gardner and O’Connor thanked those three and other civilians for their quick thinking and action in a crisis.
Frederick County’s interim fire chief, Tom Coe, said their actions might have made the difference on June 7.
“It’s often said it takes a village to help in a time of disaster. ... And this was a perfect example of that,” Coe said.
County Council President M.C. Keegan-Ayer (D) read a proclamation for South End Baptist Church, which served as an immediate reunification spot for families displaced by the fire. Several others, including Stottlemyer, Arieta and Long, were recognized with a certificate.
They said it was nice to be recognized. Dealing with all kinds of weather can make working a recycling route difficult.
As for Long, he said last month’s event has made him consider a future as a firefighter.
“It felt like my calling, man,” he said. “It felt like something I was supposed to do.”