Gage Weisdorffer was doing paperwork around 11 a.m. in the Parc Lakewood Apartments office in Luling when he heard screaming.
When it got louder and continued, Weisdorffer poked his head out the window and saw two children yelling for help.
“I asked them what was going on and they said that there was a fire in their apartment and their mother was lighting things on fire,” he said of the July 23 fire.
And that’s when his training kicked in.
Weisdorffer, a newly trained firefighter with the Luling Volunteer Fire Department, slipped on his gear from his car and went to the apartment, which by then had smoke bellowing out the door and windows. He found two children in the hallway and left them with a bystander.
He returned to find two more children with their mother, Cassandra Jones, 39, of Luling.
“One of them was at the door and came out, and that’s when the mother came out and was trying to get her kids back into the apartment,” Weisdorffer said. “It just seemed if I let the kids go then their lives would be in danger.”
In the two years that Weisdorffer has served as apartment manager he had not known Jones to behave like this.
“There was just a bunch of red flags going off,” he said. “My adrenaline was pumping and I just knew people had to leave the apartment. My main concern at the time was getting the kids to safety.”
Jones knew the apartment had smoke in it and there was fire yet she still demanded her four children, age 6 to 14, return inside, he said.
“She kept repeating her kids were not leaving the apartment and for me to let them go,” he said. “They were crying and one of them didn’t want to leave the mother. Then I walked them out and got them away from her as quickly as possible.”
The Sheriff’s Office apprehended Jones and brought her to St. Charles Parish Hospital for examination. She was arrested and charged with one count of aggravated arson, and taken into custody on Aug. 1.
Luling, Hahnville and Paradis volunteer departments arrived on the scene. The investigation identified six points of origin for the fire, which the State Fire Marshal’s Office has determined was intentionally set.
The Luling fire department also reported it had been called to this same unit for a minor fire two days earlier.
This was Weisdorffer’s first structure fire and it sealed his passion for firefighting.
“I don’t call myself a hero because I don’t want to gloat about it,” he said. “I was just glad I was there to help.”
Luling Fire Chief Craig Petit said Weisdorffer definitely did a good thing.
“If he hadn’t been there that thing would have developed,” Petit said.
Weisdorffer agreed, adding, “It feels good that I was there and I made a difference, which is another thing that draws me to being a firefighter … making a positive impact.”