Surrounded by smoke, flames and the cries of his neighbors late Tuesday, Donaree Village Apartments maintenance worker Richard Willard put his fears aside and risked his life to save another.

Come Wednesday afternoon, the 22-year-old was busy at work cleaning up the remnants of the fire that damaged his and seven other apartments in the complex’s 500 building.

North Charleston, Charleston and St. Andrews firefighters responded to the complex at 6701 Dorchester Road at 11:23 p.m., Fire Marshal Cindy Killette said.

Willard said he was at home and getting ready for bed when smoke suddenly filled his apartment.

Willard had never experienced a fire before, but that didn’t stop him from springing into action by grabbing his master key and searching the building to make sure that each person got out safely.

When a neighbor yelled for help getting his father out of the burning building, Willard dove through a window to gain access to the apartment and dragged the elderly man to safety.

He said his actions were driven by a need to take control of the situation.

“I wasn’t even thinking about how dangerous everything was. I just didn’t want him to lose his dad,” Willard said. “Most of the people out here were still in shock that there even was a fire. Someone needed to take control and do something, and I figured it might as well be me.”

Maintenance supervisor Mark Wezyk said Willard went above and beyond what was expected of him as an employee.

“The bottom line is that he stepped up and reacted when he needed to react. That’s rare, especially for his age,” Wezyk said.

The man Willard saved was later taken to a hospital for treatment of smoke inhalation, Killette said.

The building where the fire ignited did not have a sprinkler system, Killette said. Sprinklers were not required when the building was built, she said.

The fire’s cause remains under investigation, Killette said.

Reach Christina Elmore at 937-5908 or at Twitter.com/celmorePC.