A quartet of calls to Jesseca Martinez’s cell phone around 4 a.m., June 15 shocked her out of bed.
The general manager at the Tillicum McDonald’s tried to listen to each of her employees on the other line, piecing together the fact that something was wrong at the nearby Union Crest Apartments.
On one of the calls, the voice on the other end faded into garble, then the line went dead. A few minutes later, Martinez came to the realization: the apartment complex where many of her employees and customers live was on fire.
Her heart sank. “We’re like a big family. The manager from the apartment complex comes in every day. You get to know them. We have kind of a close relationship with all of them.”
Without thinking, Martinez jumped out of bed, threw on clothes and drove to the apartments, which is located immediately northeast of the restaurant. The fire was raging throughout the second floor, cutting off ground access for many tenants of the two-story complex.
A pair of Martinez’s employees who had also gotten word the fire arrived a few minutes prior. They were helping the apartment manager free trapped residents by grabbing ladders and guiding them to safety.
While those residents escaped safely, many of them watched as flames and smoke destroyed their possessions.
“I was more worried about the people in the building to make sure they were OK,” Martinez recalled. “There was nowhere for anyone to go. Most people didn’t have shoes, didn’t have clothes, anything.”
That’s when Martinez and the crew at McDonald’s did whatever they could to help. She began giving McDonald’s t-shirts and polos to victims, many of whom were moved to a nearby church. The restaurant’s crew members began collecting and donating clothes, shoes and other items for the displaced families. Some brought in dog food for the four-legged survivors.
At Martinez’s direction, McDonald’s cooked and donated 250 breakfast sandwiches for victims and first-responders, as well as several cases of bottled water. Later in the day, the restaurant produced 150 sandwiches for lunch, as well as bananas, yogurt and other sides.
“It was the least we could do,” she said.
The fire destroyed 16 units, according to West Pierce Fire & Rescue. Victims included two people who had to jump to safety, six employees of McDonald’s and five dogs. Amazingly, no one was seriously injured.
In the days immediately after the fire, Martinez helped however she could. “During that whole week, several times a day, I would go over. I helped an employee walk through her apartment. It not only tightened the bond in a family sense, but it also put out there that I’m not just their boss.”
Three months after the fateful morning, Martinez says she and her crew didn’t think twice about helping displaced tenants and first-responders.
“It did almost come as second nature,” she said. “I can only imagine what it would be like to lose everything.”
Still, their efforts that June morning have earned them a healthy round of “kudos” from the community.
Several neighborhood business owners and residents have stopped by McDonald’s to express their gratitude. On Sept. 21, Lakewood Interim Police Chief Mike Zaro awarded Martinez the Police Chief’s Commendation.
For their quick-thinking and compassion during the Union Crest Apartments fire, the City of Lakewood thanks and commends General Manager Jesseca Martinez and the Tillicum McDonald’s.