The 21-year-old East St. Louis man who risked his life to save others when he saw a neighbor’s house was on fire says he’s not a hero. Joseph “Joe-Man” Redmond II said he’s just someone who helped someone else.
However, members of the East St. Louis City Council say he is a hero and awarded him a certificate of recognition for his bravery.
It was Jan. 3 and Redmond was just arriving home after attending a church service at Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church with his mother, Michelle Johnson. She saw smoke coming from 2016 N. 43rd St., which is across the street from her home.
Johnson turned to her son and said “Joe-Man” that house is on fire. And before she could say “be careful,” her son had bolted from the car, sprinted across the street and went inside of the house where his mother said she heard someone screaming that they were trapped.
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Johnson’s 5-year-old granddaughter, who was also in the car, asked her grandmother if she wanted her to help too.
“She called me nanny and told me she knew that the people in the fire needed to stop, drop and roll,” Johnson said.
Redmond, with his body’s adrenalin rushing, said he didn’t think about his life as he ran inside of the burning house. Through the thick smoke, he saw something moving and thought it might be a baby. His only thought and desire was to save whoever was inside. He ran inside amidst the thick smoke and flames.
“I couldn’t believe what I saw,” Redmond said. “I ran inside of the house, grabbed the baby and as I was coming out, I saw something else moving. I grabbed him and ran outside. He was choking real bad.”
He saved a girl and a boy. Redmond said a lady pulled up in a truck and he handed the girl and boy off to her. And, then he ran back to the house where he saw a lady sticking her arms out of a window. She was trying to get free of the burning house, and Redmond helped pull her to safety.
I couldn’t believe what I saw. I ran inside of the house, grabbed the baby and as I was coming out, I saw something else moving. I grabbed him and ran outside. He was choking real bad.
Joseph ‘Joe-Man’ Redmond II, who ran into a burning house on Jan. 3 in East St. Louis
While she was getting her two grandchildren settled, Johnson said Redmond came into the house and asked her for a wet towel.
With flames shooting from the house, Johnson knew her son shouldn’t go back inside of that house. She told him that he could not risk going back into that house. He told her that a police officer had asked him to get a wet towel.
Redmond said the officer tried to get inside after learning that others were still trapped, but the heavy smoke was overwhelming and he could not get inside.
“By then, police and firemen started coming up, and they cleared the scene,” Redmond said.
Chantez Reynolds, 32; his fiancée Kendra Williams, 27, who was five months pregnant with Reynolds’ child; and 4-year-old Jayden Harris died in the Jan. 3 fire. Corey Burries, her daughter Janice Williams and her 1-year-old son were the survivors.
Redmond helped get Burries out and the baby boy. For this heroic gesture, Burries said she is forever grateful. The two who Redmond pulled out were Burries’ grandchildren — Walter and Ava Skinner.
Burries and the others inside of the home were sleeping when the fire broke out. A cause has yet to be determined. The Illinois State Fire Marshal’s office along with East St. Louis fire investigators are handling the investigation.
“I am grateful and appreciative. My neighbors came through for me. I appreciate everyone’s help. I want to thank everyone for their support,” Burries said.
Reynolds and Williams were in a rear bedroom, and Harris was found near the front door.
Redmond doesn’t consider himself a hero. “Everybody needs some help once in a lifetime,” he said. “I didn’t think about my life until everything was over. I am just happy that I was there and able to help.”
If things had gone the way he and his dad had planned, Redmond would have been at his dad’s bar “Joe Mans Bar and Grill” on 38th and St. Clair streets helping him clean up. But when Redmond called his dad, he didn’t answer so he went home with his mother.
His dad Joseph Redmond Sr. said he overslept. He said it must have been meant to work out that way.
I am very proud of my son for what he did. I am also proud that some positive news can be reported out of East St. Louis, instead of all of that negative stuff.
Joseph Redmond Sr., father of Joseph Redmond II
“I am very proud of my son for what he did. I am also proud that some positive news can be reported out of East St. Louis, instead of all of that negative stuff,” the elder Redmond said.
He said his son is a good kid with a good heart.
“I want to see him toughen up a little bit, but he is a great kid,” Redmond, Sr. said, adding he is pleased things worked out and his son was not injured or killed in the fire.
Thinking about the ordeal, Redmond Sr. said he wants his son to: “think before he acts because he could’ve gotten himself trapped inside when he ran into the burning house.”
“It had to be God working in him and it must’ve been God who caused the plans we had to be changed and put him where the fire was,” Redmond Sr. said.
Johnson said she was really nervous during the fire, because she knew her son was there trying to help.
“I saw ‘Joe-Man’ standing outside. I was praying that he wouldn’t try to go back into that house,” she said. He surprised her with how fast he bolted from the car and sprinted toward the burning house.
Johnson said she heard a lady screaming when she got out her car and knew the situation was serious.
Johnson and Redmond Sr. were thankful the city recognized their son at the council meeting. Redmond Sr. said he learned about it a few hours before the council meeting. Johnson knew a little sooner.
Redmond ll said he had a feeling that something was going on because several people asked him if he was going to city hall. He said he wasn’t, but a friend told him she had something to do there.
When he arrived, he spotted his uncle’s car, his mother and father’s vehicles and he knew something was up. But it wasn’t until he walked into the council chambers and heard Mayor Emeka Jackson-Hicks calling his name and asking him to join her at the front of the room.
With a certificate of recognition in her hand, she read the writing on it, presented it to Redmond and urged the room filled with onlookers to give him a well deserved round of applause. They responded and for several minutes it sounded like thunder was erupting in the council chambers. Redmond let out a grin and thanked everyone and hurriedly took himself out of center stage.
His grandmother Earline Johnson said she was equally as proud of her grandson as everyone else. “He’s obedient and I am proud of him. I am not sure that I would have done what he did. But, you never know what you’ll do until a situation arises,” she said.
Burries said she is still looking for a place for her and her family to live. East St. Louis Fire Lt. Kevin Manso said the fire department’s “Fill The Boot” campaign raised $1,700 for the fire victims.
Carolyn P. Smith: 618-239-2503