Staff Writer

UPPER TOWNSHIP — Just minutes before Stephanie Cox pointed out the black smoke billowing from the back of a Shore Road hair salon Sunday, she and her father, James, were caught up in errands.

They had made a quick stop into the Dollar General to pick up a shower mat and other items Stephanie might need to move into her new Somers Point apartment that day.

Leaving the store, they noticed the smoke coming from down the road. With no one nearby and firefighters not yet on the scene, their focus changed from running errands.

“I had to check. I just had to check,” James Cox said. “If I drove by there and something happened to somebody, I would never be able to live with myself.”

James, 58, of Upper Township, owner of J. Cox Construction, and his daughter saved two people trapped inside the apartment above the hair salon after the building caught fire Sunday.

James was driving his company’s construction van when he and Stephanie pulled over to the scene.

The building’s bottom floor, Chop Shop hair salon, was closed for the day, but they saw two men on the second floor.

They called out to one of the men, who told them that fire blocked the only exit to the back porch and the stairs were burning away as the fire spread.

Stephanie, 38, of Somers Point, helped her father, who she said has a prosthetic leg, get the 20-foot extension ladder he had on the roof of the van, place it against the side of the building and extend it up to the window for as far as it would go.

“I knew when we got there we had three or four or five minutes to get these guys out, so thank God we had the ladder,” James said.

They held the ladder steady together as the two men climbed down.

Stephanie reported hearing two explosions and said the window was soon engulfed in flames.

“They were able to get out in time not a minute or two before the flames really burst through,” James said.

After noticing that one of the tenants was wearing pajamas and had no shoes or socks, James returned to his van and dug up a pair of socks and a sweatshirt for the man.

Firefighters arrived within six minutes of their dispatch call and put the fire out within an hour.

But Stephanie was confused when her dad decided they should get in the van and leave before it was extinguished.

He told her he didn’t want anyone calling them heroes. That’s not the reason why they’d helped, he said.

“They said thanks, and that’s all I really needed,” James said.

Returning to the scene of the rescue for the first time Friday, Stephanie said the family has a saying: “Whatever you need, the Coxes will get it done.”

They both agreed they are grateful the two men they helped are alive.

“Everything happens for a reason, and for whatever reason, God let my dad stop and get my shower liner that day. It’s really something so stupid that made that three-minute difference,” she said.

Stephanie, who often works on construction jobs with her father, said the two are pretty close, but that this incident is something they will share forever.

“The biggest smile on my face was that me and my father were able to do it together,” she said. “It was nice to know that it was something that I did, but it was with my father.”

The Cape May County Fire Marshal’s Office is investigating the cause of the fire.

Contact: 609-272-7239 Twitter @AublePressofAC

Staff Writer

I report breaking news and cover the local stories at the Press's digital desk. I grew up in South Jersey and graduated from Johns Hopkins University in 2017 with a degree in English.

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