'There were flames all over': Wash. cops crawl through heavy smoke to save woman from house fire
One officer, who had previously served as a volunteer firefighter, said his fire training took over during the call
By Cheryl Schweizer
Columbia Basin Herald
QUINCY, Wash. — The fire had already engulfed the front of the house when Quincy Police Sergeant Jazzlynn Silva and QPD Officer Stephen Harder arrived on the scene. For their actions after they got there, Silva and Harder received an award from the city, another from Grant County Fire District 3, and a standing ovation from the crowd at the ceremony Tuesday.
It was Jan. 10, and Harder said he had just returned to patrol.
"I literally was two blocks from the station," he said, and dispatchers notified him of an emergency, a structure fire on L Street Southwest.
Both Silva and Harder answered. Silva said Wednesday she couldn't respond to a request for comment, having caught a new case, but Harder detailed what happened next. The structure was a house — across the alley from his own house, in fact.
"There was a lady out front," Harder said. "And there was smoke billowing from the front of the house."
The woman in the front yard said her mother had been unable to get out and had last been seen in the kitchen. Harder and Silva were not dressed for fire rescue — no fire gear, no breathing apparatus.
Nevertheless, they didn't hesitate.
"As cops, we're not trained to run into fire," Harder said. "Technically we weren't supposed to be there. But we had to try. There was someone in there."
He tested the front door, he said, and found it cool to the touch, a sign that perhaps the fire hadn't spread that far.
"I opened up the front door and there were flames all over the front room," he said.
With that way blocked, Silva and Harder worked their way around to the back door. The flames had not spread that far, but the smoke had.
"There was smoke to about 18 inches off the floor," he said.
The two officers crawled in the house, aiming for the hallway to the kitchen. Silva inhaled smoke and was forced back outside.
Harder said his first experience with emergency services was as a volunteer with Fire District 3, followed by time volunteering for Chelan County Fire District 1. He'd been through live fire training, and he said the training took over.
He crawled down the hallway and found the woman on the floor of the kitchen.
He crawled back down the hall, dragging the woman with him. As they got out of the house through the back door, the fire blew out the front windows of the house, he said.
"It seems like forever, but it's not," he said.
The woman was not breathing; the two officers started CPR, but Harder said he feared it might be too late.
"She looked dead," he said. "I've seen dead people. She looked dead."
She wasn't; the officers kept working and she showed signs of life.
"I found a pulse, and then she started breathing again," he said.
The woman received medical treatment and has recovered. Both Silva and Harder were treated for smoke inhalation.
"I honestly don't think she would've made it if we had waited," he said.
"About a week ago I got a call from her," Harder said, and she also called Silva to thank her.
The officers received an award from GCFD Chief Tony Liebelt at the Quincy City Council meeting Tuesday, and a separate award from QPD Chief Kieth Siebert.
In a separate interview, Siebert said an incident like that results in some mixed feelings.
"I'm very proud of what they did," he said, but it was disconcerting to think that officers from his department put themselves in harm's way.
"It's in our nature," Siebert said. "I think you have to have a touch of madness to do what we do."
Harder said he too had some mixed feelings, having had some time to think about what happened.
"On one hand, that's what I signed up to do. On the other hand, I saved a life," he said.
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