The Star-News


Cops put it on the line; sometimes it's not enough

Fri, May 21 2010 08:46 AM Posted By: Tom Basinski

Residents in the 500 block of Douglas Street smelled smoke on March 29, 2010. Fire dispatch received the call around 1:30 a.m. . Patrol officers Eric Carter, Patrick White, and Matthew Davison were in the area and arrived before the fire department.

The officers learned a woman had escaped from the house, but her husband, 87-year old Ignacio Garcia, was still inside. Metal security bars covered every door and window. Even worse, the front door had closed and locked upon the woman's exit.

Smoke was everywhere. I live slightly more than a mile away and the stench woke me up. The smoke was so strong I walked through my own house making sure it wasn't on fire. I even went outside to check the neighborhood. It wasn't until the next morning I learned the location of the fire.

When the officers heard a man was still inside, they knew they had to try to rescue him. Not only were the doors and windows locked, they had to scale a six-foot wall before they could even get into the yard.

Once the officers were over the wall, the smoke was so thick they couldn't see the house, only a few feet away.

The back doors and windows were broken, normally a good sign. All they would have to do is go in and get the man they could now see on the floor. But, the heavy metal bars prevented them from getting to him. Add the blinding and choking smoke to the equation and you have a horrible study in frustration.

One officer ran to his patrol car to get bolt cutters. Back at the rear of the house, the smoke continued billowing out, choking eyes, noses, and throats. The officers worked feverishly with the cutters, finally defeating one of the steel bars.

The firefighters arrived, scaled the wall, and began working on the bars with their Halligan tool, a three-foot pry bar at one end, with a pick ax head at the other. Enough security bars came loose to get the man through the door. The rescuers carried him to an ambulance that took him to the hospital.

Garcia was not the only one in need of medical attention. His wife also needed transporting.

The fire personnel had air tanks that allowed them to breathe. Not so with the police officers. The three cops suffered smoke inhalation and had to be transported to the hospital too.

Sadly, Mr. Garcia died a short time later. I wanted to interview the officers to get a sense of how hard they worked to save a man, while suffering injuries themselves. They declined to speak with me.

I don't blame them. They probably feel like they failed. They did not fail. They did what cops are supposed to do: They gave it their all, even risking their own safety and suffering injury, too.

Basinski is a 35-year police veteran.


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