FAIRFAX CITY, Va. (WUSA9) -- A Fairfax City man is being remembered Tuesday as a proud Marine Corps veteran. Bill Patton, 74, died early Tuesday in a fire inside his apartment on Mosby Woods Drive.

Patton was the former Commander of this American Legion Post.

“He was a Commander, a very good commander actually,” his friend, Bob Kelly said. “He took a lot of pride in this place. He really did.”

Patton was a proud Marine Corps veteran who loved his family and his country.

“He was a very big supporter of the troops,” Rad Smith said. “Very Marine. Kind of crazy like all of us.”

Patton was a heavy smoker who lived alone. Early this morning, investigators believe a cigarette started the fire that claimed his life.

“I started hearing somebody yelling fire,” Marshall Schulte said. “The next time I opened my door there was a lot of smoke out there. I was like okay, I got to get out of here.”

A woman who lived in the apartment directly above Patton is being hailed a hero. Fire officials said she heard his beeping smoke detector and quickly alerted her neighbors, saving the lives of 19 adults and two children.

“She is a hero to me because she went to all the doors, knocking at the doors, telling people to come out. There’s smoke coming out,” Raj Khanal said.

Ironically, the smoke detector in Patton’s apartment was installed by firefighters a year ago when they responded to a medical emergency and noticed he didn’t have one.

Patton’s wife died just a few months ago. His friends say he was still consumed by his grief.

"I feel sorry. I really do," Smith said. "He died young, but I think he’s in a better place."

Tuesday evening, Fairfax City firefighters will return to the apartment complex and knock on doors. They’ll ask residents if they have a working smoke detector and if not they’ll install one for free.

Firefighters plan to visit the neighborhood until about 8:30 p.m. Tuesday and will return Wednesday evening if needed to install smoke detectors.