TAMPA — The alarm sounded, then stopped. Kenneth Zack was heading inside at 3 a.m. Friday after work but decided to take a look instead.
Smoke was pouring out of Apartment 210 at the Hyde Park Assisted Living Facility at 3011 W DeLeon St.
Instinctively, Zack jumped a 6-foot chain-link fence and set about trying to put the fire out and evacuate the building.
Tampa Fire Rescue said the blaze began when Caroline Victory was smoking in bed. She escaped unharmed.
Zack, 20, was headed to his grandmother's home nearby when he noticed the smoke.
He smashed the window of Victory's apartment and got nostrils full of smoke and a face full of heat. He gathered about eight fire extinguishers and blasted white foam into the billowing smoke.
"You know its bad when I say so because I'm a smoker," he said Friday night.
Zack said there was one man with emphysema who said he couldn't come down the stairs. Zack figured he would be safe because he was on the opposite side of the building.
Another man fell down and scraped his knee. Zack said that was the only known injury among the 61 residents, most of whom deal with psychological or physical issues.
Tampa Fire Rescue praised his efforts.
"He was very helpful," said Bill Wade, a spokesman for the agency.
Zack doesn't think he did anything special.
"I did what anyone with a heart would do," he explained. "I'm not a hero. I'm a dishwasher."
Until Friday, he may have believed that.
Zack lost his last job, then his apartment and most recently his Nissan, he said.
His girlfriend moved back in with her parents, and he bounces between his dad's place in North Tampa, his aunt's home in South Tampa, and his grandmother's place.
Zack is thankful he recently found kitchen work at Bar Louie in International Plaza. A former Gaither High student, he has his GED and said he needs 15 credit hours to fulfill his goal of becoming a Marine.
But money is tight, so he's hoping to get there one day.
Still, he said his problems paled in comparison to Victory's. Officials estimated the fire caused $40,000 in damage. She kept trying to re-enter the smoky apartment to salvage some of her life.
"She lost everything," he said.
Times staff Writer Ileana Morales and researcher John Martin contributed to this report.