Where there's smoke, there's usually fire. And recently, where there's fire, there have been AT&T employees to come to the rescue.
On Aug. 16, systems administrator Steve Perks was taking out the trash at his St. Louis home when he heard someone screaming.
"At first I thought it was kids playing," he said. "Maybe chasing each other."
Then the screams got louder. He decided he should investigate.
With cellphone in hand, he went looking. Across the street, he found a neighbor's house on fire. A frantic adolescent girl was standing inside the front window and the house was filling with smoke.
"Her hands were bloody," Steve said. "She had already broken out part of the window."
Steve called 911, then ran to the front door and tried open it. But it was locked.
"I was confused about why she didn't just come out the front door. She said the door was locked and I thought, 'Why didn't she just unlock it?' The smoke was getting worse and was going to fill up the house pretty quick. I had to do something."
So he kicked a larger hole in the window. He pulled the girl out, and then climbed back into the smoky living room to retrieve her pet beagle.
Firefighters arrived quickly and put out the blaze. Luckily, Steve came through it with only minor injuries and loads of gratitude from the girl's family.
And Steve wasn't the only AT&T employee who recently ran toward danger. Last spring, employees in South Bend, Indiana, showed the same willingness to help in a fire that threatened a family of 4.
Colleagues Steve Kaufman, Chris Van Meter, Brian Price, John Soos and Jeff Stitsworth all work in the same Supply Chain warehouse. After a monthly union stewards meeting, they were walking back to their cars when they spotted smoke rising from a nearby building. It looked like an abandoned business with an apartment built on top.
Thinking quickly, Brian ran across the road to locate the cross-street signs and pinpoint their location. He yelled back the street names while Jeff called 911. Steve called a local number to reach fire department.
"We looked around and said, 'Where's John?'," Steve said. "He had already run over to the building and started banging on doors and windows."
The rest joined him as flames at the back of the building rose higher.
"Then," Chris said, "Brian yelled, 'I see a little kid in the window!'"
They ran to the back of the building and found a wooden stairway up to a deck. There was only 1 door in the upper floor and it was covered in flames. 2 other men had stopped to help, and they all continued to pound on the windows.
Finally, a woman came to a window only a few yards from the flames.
"She struggled to get it open," John said. "Then she handed a small child, maybe 2, to one man, who handed the child over the railing to me."
A slightly older girl came through the window and was dropped into John's arms. Then one last child, a girl with no shirt or shoes, made it out, followed by the mother.
"It was a relief to get those kids out, I'll tell you," he said.
Soon, several fire trucks arrived and put out the fire.
When John handed the child back to her mother, he said he started trembling. The family could have died. But it was over, and they were all safe.
"I've never done anything like that before," he said. "I'm just glad we happened to be there."