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Watch: N.J. cop climbs into burning home to rescue dog. ‘Get me in there!’

Officer Julia Caldwell suffered a serious respiratory injury, but she says it was worth it

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Ewing Police Department

By Kevin Shea

EWING, N.J. — As Julia Caldwell watched a fellow Ewing police officer get partially into the window of a burning home last month, where a dog was in a cage, her adrenaline surged: “Get me in there!” she exclaimed.

Her sergeant expressed doubt. “You can’t go in there.”

“Yes I can, watch,” Caldwell said.

Seconds later, an officer hoisted her up and Caldwell squeezed her small frame through the window to retrieve the dog, which was in imminent peril.

Smoke billowed from the home on Browning Avenue on June 2, and what you cannot see on the body camera video is the heat that consumed the room even though flames had yet to burn.

Caldwell later learned that the heat is invisibly dangerous, and her excited inhaling caused her to inhale invisible, heated gases.

She continues to recover from injuries were worse than police originally expected - she was in a medically-induced coma - and remains off duty more than a month later, she told NJ Advance Media in a recent interview.

The rescue took less than 90 seconds. And it was worth it.

“I look at it this way,” Caldwell said. “I have two dogs, and I just couldn’t imagine losing my house and everything in it, and my dogs, in the blink of an eye.

“I knew I could get in that window, and I just thought, let me get in and get out,” she said.

Serendipitous events put her on the side of that house, she said.

Caldwell is a detective, but was on patrol that day as part of the effort by police in New Jersey to add extra security to public schools after the shooting in Uvalde, Texas.

As she was at nearby Antheil Elementary School, she heard the call and hesitated momentarily about responding since she was on a special detail. She was close, so she decided to go and see if they needed help.

The body camera footage, posted on YouTube by her proud husband, retired Ewing officer Jeff Caldwell, starts with her hustling down the street.

When she learns that the residents are out of the home, but a dog is inside, she runs past firefighters stretching hoses and joins the other officers at the window of the room pointed out by a neighbor.

One, Mike Giovannetti, was the one who leaned into the window, then picked up Caldwell to assist her inside.

The footage is clear, as Caldwell opens the dog’s cage, wraps it in a towel and brings it to the window. The room is hazy with smoke, but her vision, she said, was like being underwater in a pool without goggles. “You can see, but not really,” she said.

After handing the 70-pound dog to officers Giovannetti, Charles Wyckoff and Sgt. Caitlin Hurley, they lowered the 105-pound Caldwell to the ground, where she stares at the grass and catches her breath. The footage ends there.

But Caldwell said it quickly got worse at the scene, when she started talking oddly, and the last thing she remembers is telling EMTs that her tongue felt funny and was swelling. That’s a telltale sign of damage to the respiratory tract, she later learned.

She woke up in a hospital 26 hours later, confused, with leather straps on her arms, and fellow cops looking at her and asking how she felt.

Caldwell had been intubated by EMTs and paramedics in the back of their ambulance and put in an induced coma to let her lungs recover and breathed on a ventilator.

She continues to recover at home, and is suffering from reactive airway disease, or RAD, and might battle it for life. She also “tweaked” her collarbone, and has been cleared to return to desk duty following that injury, her pulmonologist has not cleared her for full duty.

Caldwell is still learning about her injuries, and said she even told her pulmonologist how, from looking at the video, that the rescue took just 1 minute and 29 seconds.

“Honey, that’s a minute too long,” he responded, she said, laughing about it now.

The 12-year police officer said she’ll get through it. The police department and her friends and family has been incredibly supportive, and she’s appreciative of the media attention.

And, she has also learned of the care she received from EMTs Sean Leary and Jessica Cheverez and paramedics Alex Velez and Neil Havkin. Leary, she said, held her hand as medics put in an IV and she passed out.

Capital Health nurses even braided her hair as she lay in the hospital bed unconscious.

“Everyone was great,” she said.

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