EDWARDSVILLE — Edwardsville Mayor Hal Patton is proud to say Central Illinois native Brittany Evans and four friends disproved the adage "nothing good happens after midnight."
"We could have lost a family of four from our community, (but)... that scar never existed due to the fact Brittany and her friends did the right thing,” Patton said. "This is a good example of what five college kids can do after midnight.”
Evans, a Minier native and Bloomington resident, is one of a group of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville students who saw a home at 103 Pleasant Ridge Drive ablaze about 1 a.m. Sept. 6 and stopped their car to help.
Evans and the other students — Brittany Im, Tiffany Hazel, Ben Soos and Jordan Swanberg — received plaques from the Edwardsville Fire Department for "their heroism and quick thinking," Patton said.
For Evans, not stopping was not an option.
“A lot of people have asked if we would do it again, and yeah, we would," she said. "A police officer told us two more minutes and it wouldn’t have been a good outcome.”
Evans — a criminal justice major — joined Im and Hazel in calling 911 while Soos and Swanberg pounded on the front door of the residence. They awakened a young girl who lived there with her parents, brother and pets.
“She said, 'I’m not supposed to open the door for strangers,' but they said she needed to open the door or back up because they were going to kick it in,” Patton said.
Evans said her lifeguard training and similar experience from others in the group — Hazel is a nursing major — helped them think on their feet and defuse the situation.
“It was just reacting in the moment when something’s going wrong,” she said.
After the family and pets escaped, the group helped them calm down and decide how to proceed while firefighters fought the blaze, which was determined to be accidental.
They spent about three hours, Evans said, regrouping at a neighbor's residence.
“They were all hugging us and crying and thanking us,” Evans said.
That neighbor — Patton — was delighted to honor the students at the homeowners' association meeting when each received a plaque from Fire Chief Rick Welle.
"It was very important for the fire department to know these students saved a family,” Patton said. "It's something they will never forget."