By Mary O’KEEFE
The family of a woman who was trapped in her home during an early morning fire on Monday had the opportunity to thank Glendale police and fire personnel at a press conference on Tuesday for their extraordinary efforts in saving her and fighting the blaze that destroyed her home.
It began with a call from a 76-year-old woman in the 2000 block of Dublin Drive.
“Our dispatch said someone yelled ‘Fire!’ just before the call was [disconnected],” said GPD Sgt. Ben Bateman of the 911 call that came in from the resident on Dublin.
GPD Officers Christopher Clay, Matthew Stafford and Jimmy Mercado were the first on the scene.
“We received the 911 call of a possible fire and in route we got another call stating that the home was fully engulfed in flames and there were possible people trapped inside,” Clay said of what the officers first encountered.
When they arrived there was a lot of smoke and it was very hot, Clay said. In fact, as the officers tried to approach the front of the house they found they had to go around to another entrance because the heat was too intense. The entire time, flames continued to grow and the sound of glass windows breaking could be heard.
“It is surprising how loud fire actually is,” Clay said.
Clay and Stafford were on the ground attempting to coax a woman to climb over the railing and drop to them. They were assuring her they would catch her.
The woman was on the balcony, terrified. Clay and Stafford encouraged her to jump.
“It seemed like she was in a little bit of shock; she was happy to see us but [had] difficulty [because] she was terrified,” Clay added.
As the two officers were talking to the woman Mercado pulled up. He couldn’t hear what his fellow officers were saying but he could see the woman was not moving.
“I saw beneath the balcony there was a glass table, I thought I could jump up [on it]. I moved the table under the female, [stood on it] and tried to coax her over the railing and to let herself go so I could catch her but she was petrified. She was afraid so I did the next best thing. I jumped and reached the railing,” Mercado said. “It was hot but I was determined. I could see the flames in front of me.”
He hung onto the railing and then at one point lifted himself over the railing. He tried talking to the woman and asked if anyone else was in the home. She said there was a dog inside.
In the meantime Clay had found a ladder that a neighbor had and placed it against the balcony railing.
Mercado attempted again to get the woman to go over the rail but she was still scared.
“She didn’t want to move,” he said. “I saw Officer Clay with the ladder and [he] started moving her way … I made a decision and I picked her up.”
He handed her to Clay, who carried her down the ladder to Stafford who grabbed her and carried her quickly across the street away from the fire.
Mercado jumped over the rail and to the ground.
“At one point I felt the balcony was giving way,” Mercado said. “I felt the wood cracking and I heard the fire behind me.”
He has second-degree burns on one hand.
GFD Chief Greg Fish praised the officers for their quick thinking and actions stating it would be difficult to describe the complexity of the thought process and action these “heroes” went through.
Fish added the officers did not have personal protective equipment and facing this fire placed them in a foreign environment.
“[It was] outstanding work they did to save a life. I am convinced if they were up there 30 seconds to a minute more it would have been a very tragic outcome,” he said.
When firefighters arrived on scene the home was fully engulfed.
“There was fire coming out of every window and every door,” Fish said.
Firefighters were praised for keeping the fire contained to the home and not allowing it to spread to other homes or the hillside.
The family of the woman, son Vakrig Tchobanian and son-in-law Robert Karoyan, thanked the officers and firefighters for their bravery and giving them something to be grateful for this Christmas.
Tchobanian said his mother was doing well but still in the hospital as of Tuesday. He said she awoke to the sounds of the smoke alarm and called 911. A neighbor, reportedly, also called 911 to report the fire.
The fire is still under investigation and it does appear the dog perished in the fire.