A group of Muslim teenagers have been praised as “heroes” for running into a burning building to rescue residents, including a blind pensioner with hearing difficulties.

The blaze erupted in a block of flats in Bethnal Green, east London, at around 6pm last Thursday, when the three teenagers were walking to the Young Black Men project at a nearby centre.

Speaking to the the reporters, Sakariye Digaale, also known as Zack, said: “There were five of us; we all had different roles. I said I’d find disabled people and another friend was pointing people to the exits. We went up the floors knocking on the doors telling people to leave the building. A lot of people were shocked, they thought we were trolling them, so it was a struggle to explain to them we weren’t joking. I heard that there was a guy on the fourth floor who I had heard was deaf and blind, so I was trying to go to him to rescue him out of the building. So I put him on my back and took him down the stairs.”

Despite being “scared”, the brave 18-year-old described the situation as a “fight or flight” moment where helping to secure the safety of others was paramount. “Being a Muslim,” he added, “we’re trying to help guys. That could have been a dad, that could have been anyone. And everyone’s thinking I’m a hero now and I’m thinking this is normal!”

Founded by Abdi Hassan, The Young Black Men Project is a community-based group supporting Somali and other Black people in East London. Hassan said he was “so proud” of the trio and praised them for their heroic actions during a time when “too often the narrative is different” for young black males in the media.