He looked up and saw a petrified woman on a balcony on the third floor with a child. Flames quickly crept up behind her.
“People started screaming for the lady to dump her kids,” Blanks said.
The mother released her son over the railing. As Blanks saw the little child fall, he pushed forward, arms out.
“I immediately got a tunnel vision of the child and somehow managed to catch him,”
The alternating video, captured on a cellphone, shows Blanks sprinting toward the 3-year-old and diving to catch him just milliseconds before the boy would have hit the ground.
Shortly after the child was safe in Blank’s arms, he and the neighbors wrapped the boy in a blanket and tried to calm him down until the ambulance arrived a few minutes later.
Blanks said his time in the Marines, combined with his athletic training as a wide receiver in high school and college, prepared him for this moment. The Marines taught him to “always be attentive, not be complacent and have discipline,” he said.
Blanks, who now works as a security guard, said protecting others is a natural instinct for him. And in this case, it prevented a tragic situation from becoming even more horrible.
After the child’s mother – identified by local NBC affiliate 12News as Rachel Long – 30, dropped her son off the balcony, she turned and went back into the burning apartment where her 8-year-old daughter was. Long never came out.
But words began to spread below that a child was in the apartment, and that’s when a second heroic rescue took place.
Another spectator ran into the building and through the flames to save the 8-year-old.
D’Artagnan Alexander, 42, was on his way to a nearby square, where he works as a hairdresser, when he heard screams and saw the flames.
“I have a 3-year-old and a 9-year-old, so when I heard that there were kids in there that really hit my heart,” said Alexander, who immediately parked his car and ran into the fire.
Without hesitation, he said, he entered the smoky building and went to the third floor, which he described as burning hot.
“I heard someone screaming for help and I found the girl on the floor and carried her outside,” said Alexander, who managed to escape the building mostly unscathed, except for some minor burns.
“Everything happened so fast,” he said. “I didn’t have time to think, my body just kicked in and I went in.”
More than 100 firefighters arrived at the site, according to 12News, to find eight apartments engulfed in flames. The cause of the fire is being investigated by police, although there were no immediate signs of foul play, local news reported.
When Alexander took the girl to safety, he saw his 3-year-old brother who Blanks had saved a few minutes earlier. But “it was all blur,” he said, and he did not know who had saved the boy.
Blanks said he had a similar experience. On the spot he heard about a man who rescued the young girl, but in the midst of the movement with ambulances and ambulance doctors he could not find out who it was.
After the fact, the situation became both personal and emotional for Blanks, and he wanted to know who had saved the girl.
“I reached out to a reporter at a local Phoenix station,” Blanks said. “I wanted to find the man and thank him. He deserves more recognition than I do. “
“Phillip sent me a text and he thanked me for what I did,” said Alexander, adding that he was surprised at what Blanks did.
Both men say that they are always bound by this experience.
Alexander and Blanks have also been in contact with the children’s father, Corey Long, who they said was at work during the fire. For a long time he refused to be interviewed by The Post and said he was not ready to talk.
The men visited with Long on Wednesday, and they said that Long expressed their extreme appreciation for saving their children.
“It was very emotional,” Blanks said. “We became family, all three of us.”
The men promised to help Long in any way they could. His two children are currently in the hospital with serious non-life-threatening injuries, Blanks said. A GoFundMe site has been created for the family to cover medical and other expenses.
“Saving this kid changed my whole perspective,” Blanks said. “It made me realize how short life is and how we need to protect each other and treat people better.”
“I couldn’t be more grateful that we both happened to be there,” Alexander echoed.
But in addition to the two strangers who could save siblings, Rachel Long – the mother who saved her son but did not survive himself – is “the real hero,” Blanks said.