How a Marine Veteran and a Barber Saved Two Children from a Burning Apartment on July 4th

July 15, 2020Joshua Skovlund
arizona apartment fire, phoenix, coffee or die

Screen shot from video posted to YouTube by ABC7.

Phillip Blanks served as a U.S. Marine with 1st Battalion, 4th Marines as a maintenance management specialist for four years. D’Artagnan Alexander is a barber by trade and a CEO/musician at Kontraband Entertainment. Neither man knew the other prior to a tragic apartment fire in Phoenix on the Fourth of July

In a recent interview with Coffee or Die, Alexander said he saw smoke and fire protruding through the roof of an apartment complex across the street from the barbershop he worked at as he pulled into the parking lot for a 9 o’clock appointment. He noticed a woman flagging him down, so he immediately stopped his vehicle in the middle of the lot and got out to help. The woman was frantic and told him there were kids in the blazing apartment. He sprinted into the complex without hesitation.

Phillip Blanks
Phillip Blanks served four years in the Marine Corps. Photo courtesy of Phillip Blanks/Instagram.

Blanks told Coffee or Die that he was sitting in his friend’s third-floor apartment next door to neighbor Rachel Long’s apartment, when he heard people yelling out in the parking lot below. He hurried to the window and saw that people were yelling and focused on an area of the apartment next door. The Marine Corps veteran heard one of them yell that there was a fire in the apartment complex, so he quickly grabbed his belongings and ran outside. 

He ran across the street and set his things down as he saw the inferno for the first time. Someone in the parking lot crowd screamed that Long needed to drop her baby to save him. Blanks sprinted back across the street and locked his eyes on 3-year-old Jameson Long.

“I was just focused on catching him. That’s all I was thinking about,” Blanks said. He arrived just in time to catch the falling child, his head landing perfectly in the crook of Blanks’ elbow. 

Jameson was screaming and crying, in agonizing pain from burns on his body. Blanks started pacing back and forth in the parking lot, looking for a safe place to lay him down. A bystander helped Blanks, and they laid the child down in the bystander’s car and watched over him until EMS arrived approximately 10 minutes later and took the child to the hospital. 

While Blanks and the bystander were attempting to calm Jameson’s frantic crying, a separate heroic action was happening on the third floor. Alexander was trying to kick in the front door to Long’s apartment. On the third kick, the door gave way, blasting Alexander with smoke and extreme heat. 

All he could see was smoke and fire. Alexander beckoned to anyone inside to yell or try to crawl toward him, but he didn’t hear any response outside of the roaring fire inside. Alexander started to head back down stairs, thinking the occupants might be on the balcony still. Halfway down the stairs, he heard a loud scream. He immediately turned around and sprinted back to the apartment. 

rachel long
Rachel Long and her two children, Jameson and Roxxi. Photo courtesy of Rachel Long’s Facebook.

He looked into the apartment again, searching for any signs of life. There was movement around the corner of one of the rooms within view of the front door. Alexander saw arms moving and immediately acted, sprinting into the fire-filled apartment. He grabbed hold of 8-year-old Roxxi’s arms but realized they were badly burned. He picked her up by the waist instead and told her, “I got you, let’s go.” 

Alexander shielded Roxxi from the fire as best he could and sprinted out of the apartment and into the hallway. As he made his way down to the parking lot, fire trucks were arriving. One of the Long family’s neighbors immediately jumped in to help calm Roxxi.

Rachel Long died in the fire after placing her two children’s lives in the hands of complete strangers. 

“God put us there — we had the ability, the speed, the power, to get the job done, but at the end of the day, the true hero is Mrs. Rachel Long,” Alexander said. They each said how courageous she was to trust a complete stranger to catch her child and then go back into the fire to try and save her daughter. 

Alexander and Blanks
Alexander and Blanks with Corey Long at the hospital. Photo courtesy of Phillip Blanks/Instagram.

According to the family’s gofundme page, Roxxi will need seven surgeries and extensive rehabilitation. Jameson has undergone one surgery so far and has been experiencing panic attacks when his medications start to wear off. The family wrote that both kids, now motherless, are doing well but have a long road ahead. 

Alexander and Blanks have remained in contact with the Long family, helping to gather donations for medical bills and to rebuild their lives.

“We’re basically considered family now, and we’re going to be in their life for a long time,” Alexander said, a sentiment that was echoed on the family’s gofundme page, where a family member wrote, “[Alexander] and Mr. Blanks we now consider family. We are so grateful for them.”

Joshua Skovlund
Joshua Skovlund

Joshua Skovlund has covered the 75th anniversary of D-Day in France, multinational military exercises in Germany, and civil unrest during the 2020 riots in Minneapolis that followed the death of George Floyd. Born and raised in small-town South Dakota, he grew up playing football and soccer before serving as a forward observer in the US Army. After leaving the service, he earned his CrossFit Level 1 certificate and worked as a personal trainer while earning his paramedic license. He went on to work in paramedicine for more than five years, much of that time in the North Minneapolis area, before transitioning to a career in multimedia journalism. Joshua is married with two children. His creative outlets include Skovlund Photography and Concentrated Emotion, where he publishes poetry focused on his life experiences.

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