WASHINGTON, DC (WUSA9) -- How do you thank a man you don't even know for saving your life?
That's the question on the lips of a D.C. great-grandmother when she thinks about the firefighter who gave up his own air mask so she had a chance to survive.
Both rescuer and fire victim are now recovering, thanks to the quick-thinking and self-sacrifice of DC firefighter Danny Lovato.
When Fire Truck 7 pulled up to the apartments in the 1700 block of Minnesota Avenue SE on Thursday, a handful of police officers had already evacuated the residents from the lower floors. But Phyllis Terrell, 65, was hanging out her window, trapped on the third floor with heavy smoke rolling out.
“She said it was just filled with smoke and she couldn't see,” said her granddaughter, Tyricka Terrell.
Lovato threw a ladder against the side of the building -- you can see him in a photo climbing into the smoke -- and tried to convince the great grandma to hold on.
“She was about to jump,” said her granddaughter.
Lieutenant Dan White and Firefighter Joshua Elie raced inside. “We raced through everything and got to her,” said Elie.Elie raced inside. “We raced through everything and got to her,” said Elie.
But Terrell could not breathe any more of the toxic, superheated air, and it was too risky to take her down the ladder, so Lovato did an extraordinary thing. In the middle of that smoke, he pulled off his mask and air tank and handed it to Terrell.
While White and Elie took Terrell down the stairs, Lovato made his way down the ladder, his windpipe choked with soot and burned by the heat.
“Either she would have died of the smoke, or she would have jumped and died that way…. I just love the firefighter who saved her. Keep him in my prayers too. And my grandma.”
Lovato's wife Adrian is at his side at the hospital. Doctors have taken the breathing tube out of his throat and he's talking. They hope to take him out of the ICU soon.
Phyllis Terrell remains in serious condition, but Ed Smith of the Firefighter's Union says she's sitting up and singing the praises of the man who saved her.
(© 2016 WUSA)