Fritz Sam has given thousands of rides since becoming an Uber driver in 2015. Until Wednesday, he'd never pulled over to rescue people from a burning building.
At around 8 a.m., Sam was driving a passenger from Brooklyn, New York, to LaGuardia Airport when he noticed people in pajamas gawking and pointing phones at walk-up in the city's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. At first, he thought the ruckus was caused by a fight, but when a piece of debris fell from a second-story window, he realized the building was in flames.
With his passenger's permission, he pulled over to gauge the situation. And when someone said there were still residents inside, Sam says a flip switched inside of his brain and he rushed into the smoke-filled property.
"I get tunnel vision in those situations," Sam, 54, tells CNBC Make It. "I don't want to get hurt, but when people need help, I just want to do the right thing."
Sam says he spent about six minutes inside and guided two residents by hand out of the building. One of them told them it was their AC unit that had caught on fire. She appeared to be in shock and hesitant to leave the hallway.
"I looked at her and said, 'I'm not leaving until you leave,'" he says.
Firefighters entered the building as he helped a second person out. Sam says he spent a few minutes checking on the people he helped, then someone tapped his on the shoulder and handed him his keys. In all the chaos, he had parked in front of a fire hydrant, and another passerby re-parked his car down the block.
He also had unknowingly handed his phone to someone standing outside the building. It was promptly returned.
"It was a matter of right people being at the right place at the right time," Sam says. "The passenger wasn't like, 'Oh, let's just go.' She cared, too."
The passenger, a writer named Jemimah Wei, tells CNBC Make It that she followed Sam onto the sidewalk and joined the chorus of people yelling to residents to evacuate. She says she was touched by Sam's "strong moral compass."
Ultimately, Sam and Wei got back into the car and made it to the airport on time. Wei later tweeted photos from the fire, commenting: "People are good."
The thread went viral.
Sam says he doesn't consider his actions to be all that spectacular. "There's nothing special about me," he says. "I think this is in everyone."
He says his parents owned a yellow taxi company while he was growing up, and he once pulled over to check on someone whose car had burst into flames. "I hope I never have to do something like this again, but I can't say I won't," Sam says. "You'd be surprised what any given moment can bring out in you."
On the phone, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi asked Sam for his story and thanked him for his efforts, Sam says. The company issued a statement expressing gratitude for having "such a heroic and thoughtful member [in] our community."
Sam says he hasn't been compensated for his actions, and he doesn't expect to be.
"In the service industry, it's our job to take care of passengers and people," he says. "I think it's just in my nature to want to do small things that can make a big difference."