Daughter of firefighter survives condo fire, thanks rescuers

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by Tanya Mendis

Bio | Email | Follow: @tanyamendis

azfamily.com

Posted on July 24, 2014 at 5:06 PM

Updated Thursday, Jul 24 at 5:13 PM

PEORIA, Ariz. -- When a fire ripped through her condo last month, the daughter of a Peoria firefighter used her instinct and years of training from her father to buy enough time for his fellow firefighters to save her life.

Brooklynn Castellanos, her boyfriend and friend were in her condo on June 29 when she noticed her bedroom door was "glowing orange."

Castellanos realized her condo was burning, but when she opened the door to escape, she was met with a wall of heat and fire.

"I couldn't see through to the other side; it was a complete firewall," Castellos said. "We were not gonna be able to get out."

Castellanos dialed 911 and remembered the lessons her father had drilled into her head since she was a young girl. She grabbed her friends, ran to the back bathroom, got low to the ground and put towels over their faces. Her boyfriend placed a towel under the door to prevent as much smoke as possible from coming into the bathroom.

As the minutes ticked by, Castellanos began feeling light-headed.

"At that point, it became really hard to breathe, and I felt I needed to hang up with the operator and call my mom," Castellanos said. The operator tried to make her stay on the line, but Castellanos hung up and called her mother.

"All I could tell her was, 'I can't breathe,' " Castellanos recalled, crying. " 'I just want you to know I love you and I think I'm gonna die.' "

Her mother frantically told her father what was happening.

Tim Castellanos, a Peoria fire engineer, hopped in his car and drove to his daughter's condo as fast as possible. He knew the outcome for anyone trapped in a burning building was grim.

"I was praying to God that she would use all her wit and her survival skills to fight and to live," he said.

Firefighters from five departments, including the engineer's fellow firefighters in Peoria, arrived on scene within minutes of the call.

When they got into the apartment, the fire was seconds away from burning through the door to the bathroom where Castellanos and her friends had taken cover.

Capt. Billy Morris grabbed Castellanos while two other firefighters grabbed the other teens. When they got outside and evaluated the teenagers, Morris said they had no pulse and were not breathing.

"We had three dead victims when we pulled them out," Chief Bobby Ruiz said.

Rescue crews raced the teens to area hospitals. Eight hours later, Castellanos woke up in the hospital with her parents at her side.

"The first words I got to tell my parents was that I loved them," Castellanos recalled.

She suffered some injuries from the ordeal, including a lacerated liver from the revival efforts. However, doctors expect Castellanos to make a full recovery, and she says her friends are recovering as well. They are all planning to return to college in the fall.

Thursday morning, Castellanos, her father and his colleague who saved her life embraced after a news conference where they relived the moments of the rescue.

Tim Castellanos says there are not enough words to express his gratitude.

"I have to pinch myself every day," he said. "Sometimes I have thoughts that, 'What if I’m dreaming and I wake up and it’s not true?' And I just have to kind of pinch myself. I look at her and I’m just so thankful that she’s here." 

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