I want to introduce you to the three Auburn Hills Police officers who acted quickly in the early hours of Sunday morning, July 9 to save the life of a 72 year old man from a fire in his home.
Last night I met with Officers Alex Keebaugh, Chad Taylor and Mike Lane to hear from them what happened at the scene of that residential fire.
Officer Keebaugh said he was in downtown Auburn Hills on Auburn Road running radar.
Officer Chad Taylor was part of a team dealing with an unruly party and Officer Lane was elsewhere on patrol in the city. Dispatch sent Keebaugh and Taylor on a “welfare check” saying they thought they could hear an older man moaning and asking for help on an open line.
Officers were on the scene quickly – one minute and 57 seconds for the first one. They told me that as they pulled up they could smell smoke but didn’t think much of it since it is a time of year when people have outside bonfires. The house is rather overgrown and hard to see in the dark. As they walked up from different sides they saw that there was smoke pouring out from under the eaves and called for the Fire Department to be dispatched.
They met on the front porch of the house. Taylor couldn’t remember if they actually spoke to each other or if they just knew what they had to do. Keebaugh said he remembered saying that they had to go in. Without hesitation Taylor agreed.
When Keebaugh kicked in the door they could see that the smoke was very thick and dense. If he held out his arm he couldn’t see his hand at the end of it. So he got down on his hands and knees and could see that there was less than one foot of somewhat clear air near the floor. He tried to use his flashlight and learned that it couldn’t penetrate the smoke but it was all he had. He called out to the man and could hear moaning in response. He called for the man to come toward him but couldn’t hear or detect movement. He said the voice sounded very weak. So Alex started crawling forward with Chad holding onto his feet. The smoke was so dense that they realized that they didn’t know where they were in the house. They guessed they were in a hallway. Alex kept calling and the responses made it seem that the man was very close but he couldn’t tell exactly where he was. All of a sudden Alex saw a hand appear in front of his face. He realized the man was lying on something like a sofa and he started pulling on the man’s arm attempting to pull him backward out of the house. It was very slow going because Alex couldn’t get much traction since he was on his stomach. At one point he thought that the man got stuck on something and he couldn’t pull him any farther. He knew he was “running out of gas” due to his exertions in the smoke filled house.
Chad said he was holding onto Alex’s feet as Alex crawled forward. As they
lay stretched out on the floor Chad realized that they had moved far enough forward that they were through the doorway and he heard the door close behind them. The smoke was so thick they couldn’t see anything, including the location of the door behind them. Chad stopped pulling Alex and the victim while he relocated the door. They estimate that when Alex was about 3-4′ from the doorway Alex could go no further and had to drop the victim to get out himself. Chad stood up to pull the victim further with the better leverage he had while on his feet. When Officer Mike Lane arrived he helped pull both Chad and the victim out. They had the victim out within 2 minutes and 39 seconds from the time the first officer arrived on scene. Shortly after they pulled him out the fire “flashed over,” a way of saying that it burst into flames. After a trip to the hospital for smoke inhalation, the next day they were all back at work.
As they talked to me about the incident they told it as if they were writing police reports – without observable emotion in a just-the-facts kind of way. They commented that they knew they were in big trouble when Chad lost contact with the door and it closed. They could easily have become disoriented and panicked under these conditions. Instead Chad quickly determined a method of how to find the door. Alex said he just kept envisioning the door as very large and he focused on inching his way to it. It was chilling to listen to them. I know the level of danger they were in. I thought about their families – wives, children, parents, fiance – all of whom I have met.
The victim was transported to the hospital. He was released earlier this week and is staying with a nephew in Flint. We have not spoken to him. A few days after we last spoke with the nephew, the victim died. We do not know if it was the effects of the fire or his poor health. We will never know.
One of the news channels wanted to interview the officers for a story on the fire on Sunday evening. They declined because they are humble and self effacing guys. They are examples of the high quality of officers we have on the Auburn Hills Police Department. I could not be more proud of them.
None of the officers knew the victim and yet they risked all simply because they knew he was in there and needed their help. With a slight shrug of his shoulders, Taylor spoke for all three when he said that it was part of their job – what they signed on to do. And knowing them, I was not even slightly surprised at their point of view. They did it because it needed to be done.
Police across the country perform heroic acts everyday. It may or may not be covered in a news story. A fellow police chief gave a speech in which he talked about an incident of heroism by his officers. I could echo his words about Officers Keebaugh, Taylor and Lane:
“What our officers did yesterday was not their most heroic act. The day they embraced this profession, when they committed to a cause and willingly accepted a life of risk and uncertainty to serve that cause, was their most heroic act. Every day after that was simply in the line of duty.”
That is how they see it – they committed to the noblest of causes which required them to endure the highest order of risk on behalf of strangers- and they accept that.