SINGAPORE - Thick smoke was billowing into his flat, which was also heating up quickly, but that did not stop Mr Deevak Premdas from looking beyond his own plight to help his neighbours.
He was at his friend's condominium nearby when his mother called him about the smoke. Mr Deevak ran home and helped his mother and grandmother get to safety, while also grabbing a few items such as their passports and important documents.
"I closed my master bedroom door and the main door to make sure that if the fire were to spread (to my unit), it wouldn't spread further to others," added Mr Deevak, 27, a financial adviser and co-founder of an edtech start-up.
The fire had broken out in the unit directly below his 15th-storey Housing Board flat at Block 688F Woodlands Drive 75 on Feb 7.
The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), which was alerted to the fire at about 1.25pm, said it was raging in the bedroom of the 14th-storey unit when firefighters arrived. They extinguished the fire with a water jet.
No injuries were reported. The SCDF is investigating the cause of the fire.
Mr Deevak remembered that his neighbours - an elderly woman and her daughter who is paralysed - would have difficulties leaving their flat by themselves.
On his way to help them, Mr Deevak bumped into his 13th-floor neighbour Marcus Lim, who was also evacuating residents. They helped the two women onto their wheelchairs and took them downstairs.
The two men helped to evacuate around 50 people in total across nine storeys.
On Sunday (Feb 20), they received the SCDF Community Lifesaver Award, presented to members of the public whose actions involve an element of self-risk and who contribute in saving lives.
Mr Lim, 26, had just returned home from his night shift as an auxiliary police officer when a neighbour told his family about the fire.
He asked his neighbour to take his mother and anyone else who was at home on the 13th storey downstairs, while he evacuated other residents starting from the top floor.
Mr Lim, who did his national service in the SCDF, said instincts from his training kicked in.
"I had to remain calm, take charge and tell others to go down in a safe manner to minimise casualties and injuries so everyone would be safe."
Mr Deevak said empathy is the most important skill people should have.
"Once you take your family members out, what's next? I think everyone has to think about that," he added.
"You know when you're really in danger, and it wasn't like I was caught between a rock and a hard place. I just had to take them to safety. I don't think that was a very difficult thing to do."
The elderly woman's other daughter, who was not home at the time, thanked Mr Deevak and Mr Lim, adding that she does not know what would have happened to her family if they had not been there.
"It's definitely a relief to see that your family members are safe even when you're not at home," said Mr Deevak, whose family is living with a relative in Choa Chu Kang while their flat is being repaired.
The fire in the unit below had charred their flat, melting equipment such as fans and air conditioners.
His home has since been cleaned and he expects to move back in the middle of next month.
Sembawang GRC MP Vikram Nair, who presented the awards to Mr Deevak and Mr Lim at their block, said it was impressive that their first thought was to look after their neighbours.
"You focused on making sure everyone around you was safe and that made all the difference in this particular incident," he added.