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Cops save 2 kids in W.Va. fire

November 01, 1999|By DAVE McMILLION, Charles Town

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - With no breathing apparatus and only their flashlights to guide them through the darkness, two Martinsburg Police officers entered a burning home Monday morning and rescued two young children trapped on the second floor.

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When officers Terry Stanley and Leslie Witt arrived at 329 Boyd Ave. around 2:36 a.m., a man standing outside the house screamed that a woman and two children were trapped upstairs, police said.

Stanley and Witt went inside the house, using fire extinguishers to fight back flames inside the front entrance as they made their way up the stairs.

Witt said he took small breaths in an attempt to limit the amount of smoke that entered his lungs. His eyes stung when he opened them to search for the children, he said.

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Witt said visibility was limited to about 2 feet.

"Basically you're just feeling your way around in the dark and yelling for the kids," said Witt, a patrolman who has been with the department for four years. Stanley, also a patrolman, has been with the department 10 years. He could not be reached for comment Monday.

Stanley finally found a window through which the children and the woman had escaped onto a porch roof, said Witt.

Each officer grabbed one of the children, ages 4 and 8, and headed back through the house the way he entered, Witt said. Martinsburg firefighters were in the house by that time, police said.

Witt said he made his way out of the smoke by keeping his eye on light that was shining off reflective tape on a firefighter's uniform.

Firefighters administered oxygen to Stanley and Witt, but the officers, as well as the three people trapped by the fire, escaped injury, rescue workers said.

"I think they did a great job. I think they should be commended for their bravery and their disregard for their own safety," said police Cpl. Charles Ellis, the supervising officer who responded to the scene.

Witt said he never worried about his own safety, thinking only of the two children who were in danger.

"You go with your first impulses," Witt said.

The woman was still on the porch roof when firefighters arrived. They extended a ladder to the roof and helped her down, said Martinsburg Fire Chief Phil Martin.

Rescue workers did not identify the children and woman. A group of people at the house Monday night would not speak to a reporter.

It was not clear what caused the fire, although it may be suspicious, Martin said. The blaze caused about $7,000 worth of damage.

Ellis said he wrote a letter of commendation for Stanley and Witt and gave it to Police Chief Ted Anderson Monday. The letter will become a part of their permanent personnel files, Ellis said.

Martin said the officers placed themselves in a situation that was dangerous even for firefighters with protective equipment. There is no way to know which way a building fire will spread, Martin said. Also, a fire limited to one area can suddenly shift to another when a window or door is opened.

"They certainly weren't equipped to go into a hazardous area," he said.

Firefighters across the country, equipped with breathing masks and flame-resistant equipment, have died in similar fires, Martin said.

Martin said he is not sure it was necessary for the officers to take the risk they did. Firefighters arrived at the house about 60 seconds after Stanley and Witt.

Ellis said police officers are not going to wait when people's lives are at risk.

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