Mike Batisto was walking his new black lab last night around 11 o'clock when he first smelled smoke. He walked by at first, but then he had a feeling that he ought to circle back.
That decision to turn around would turn out to be crucial. When he circled back, Batisto saw smoke coming from a house at 800 SW 18th St. in Fort Lauderdale. He banged on the front door, but nobody responded. He hadn't brought a cell phone with him on the walk, so he went to a neighbor's house to see if someone could call 911. He knocked on a neighbor's door and woke up the couple inside. When the guy inside asked what Batisto wanted, he told him: "There's a fire next door. Call 911."
"If you're lying, I'm going to shoot you," the guy told Batisto.
The man and his wife came outside and saw the fire billowing out of the house next door. The woman, identified as Chris Everett by the Fort Lauderdale Fire Department, told Batisto that the man who lived in the burning house was disabled.
Batisto and Everett returned to the burning house and pounded on the front door. They called for
the man, but there was no answer. They tried the handle, but the door was locked. That's when Batisto decided they'd better kick in the front door.
Batisto kicked, and the door shattered off the frame. "I really wasn't sure what would happen when I kicked the thing. You see that on TV, but I guess I was full of adrenaline, and the thing just came right open."
Even with the door opened, there wasn't much Batisto and Everett could do. Smoke billowed out from the living room. They called into the blackness but heard nothing. As Batisto continued to call out, Everett circled around the side of the house.
"Where are you?" Everett yelled into the windows. She heard a voice call back around the west side. "I'm in my bedroom," a man responded from within the smoke.
Batisto came around to the side, and the two of them smashed out the bedroom window. The man was lying on his bed. "It was floor-to-ceiling smoke," Batisto recalls.
Batisto hoisted himself up. His upper body was now fully in the smoke. He struggled with the man but finally got him through the window.
By then, a Fort Lauderdale cop had arrived and helped Batisto carry the man to the swale in front of the house. "The guy was freaking out," Batisto said. The man had cut himself coming out of the window and was covered with blood and soot. Batisto looked down and realized he had blood all over him too.
"I wasn't sure if it was my blood or his, so the cop got some rubbing alcohol and wiped my arm off," Batisto said. Batisto wasn't cut, but the man was taken to Broward General.
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Fort Lauderdale Fire Department spokesman Matt Little said he isn't sure of the man's condition; a report should be available later today with more information.
The neighbor who made the comment about shooting Batisto later apologized. "I told him, 'Hey I would've done the same thing if somebody knocked on my door at 11 o'clock at night,'" Batisto recalled.
After Batisto gave a statement to firefighters, his wife drove to the scene to give him and the dog a ride back home. "I had a couple of scotch to get my heart rate down," he said.
He went to work today but hadn't told his coworkers about his act of heroism last night. "It would've just felt like I was bragging or something."