One evening in May 2010, then-20-year-old musician Chris Sheeran went to band practice before watching the newly released remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street at the theater. Then he went to bed in the Allentown, Pennsylvania, apartment he shared with his father, his father’s girlfriend, and his then-10-year-old brother.
Around 3 a.m., he was woken up by a notification on his Palm Pre, an early smartphone that was popular at the time. He’d set it up to receive texts when his friends tweeted, and it would play a riff from the song “Big Wiggly Style” by the metal band the Devil Wears Prada.
“The color inside the room was this hellish amber hue, with this smokiness,” he recalled. “Being in the heavy metal realm, I thought it was my imagination.” He thought he might still be asleep, having a lucid dream. Then another notification pinged on his phone. “That’s when I knew I was awake,” he said.
He breathed in smoke and realized that the building was on fire. Remembering what he was taught at school, he threw himself to the floor to get to clean air. He crawled to his bedroom door, and when he opened it he was confronted with heavy black smoke.
“Some slight panic started to creep in,” he said, adding that the first thing to go through his mind was that he needed to get the two other people in the apartment at the time — his little brother and his father’s girlfriend — out safely.
Still in his boxers, Sheeran ran to their doors and banged furiously, but they didn’t get up. Struggling for air, he ran out of the apartment, and on the street he saw two men phoning 911. Once he had regained his breath, he crawled back into the building and managed to get his brother and father’s girlfriend out.
His thoughts then turned to other people in the building. “I ran back to alert the neighbors that were upstairs, only to be greeted by this gentleman who was extremely upset that I woke him up,” Sheeran recalled. “And he’s like, ‘What’s going on?’ I just remember yelling in his face: ‘Fire, get everybody out!’ Then everything changed between us.”
He subsequently tried to wake up the family on the top floor. Though he was unsuccessful, they survived after firefighters forced their way into their apartment.