Suburban Hero: Wheeling cop rescues boy she knew from pickup games
Wheeling Police Officer Angela Kaehler was just minutes into her patrol shift when she spotted smoke billowing from a mobile home park.
As she drove closer to the source, what started as white smoke - perhaps from a grill, she thought - had already turned dark, and was rising from a fire growing ever-stronger in a mobile home's attached carport.
There, a 12-year-old boy came running out for help.
"I asked if there was anyone else inside," Kaehler said. "He was home alone. Then he says, 'Oh my God, my dog's in there.'"
The boy ran up the porch and made it halfway into the doorway before Kaehler grabbed him and pulled him out.
"There really was no thought. I just went into action," she said. "It's a split-second to make the decision, and if I didn't make the decision, he probably wouldn't have made it out."
For her bravery, Kaehler is being awarded the police department's Medal of Valor at the recommendation of her supervisor, the police and fire chiefs and an awards committee.
It turns out Kaehler knew the boy and many of his friends from neighborhood pickup basketball and soccer games that she and other officers have played in as a way to boost community relations. The friendly competitions sometimes end with officers buying pizza for the kids.
"It's a little more personal with me knowing the child," Kaehler said. "It's kind of a blur. You just act. You don't have a second to think."
The small family dog perished in the late afternoon fire on July 10 in the Whippletree Village subdivision. The boy had some minor burns to his hand and forearm.
The mobile home and a neighboring home were total losses, while another home was badly damaged. Fire department officials don't yet know the cause of the fire, but they think it originated in the shed.
Kaehler and other first responders were uninjured. That's even as she navigated a precarious situation after grabbing the boy from the house.
Once the boy made it down the front stairs, the gate swung shut and Kaehler, unable to get it open, became trapped.
"When I couldn't get the gate open, I started going into a panic. I'd seen flames coming out of the open entry door," she said. "I said I'm not going to mess with this."
So she jumped over, and made it safely out.
Soon, firefighters arrived and extinguished the fire minutes later.
During the cleanup and investigation, Kaehler remained on the scene. Word spread about her heroic actions.
"This act of bravery which really rang to me was that she didn't say nothing," said Wheeling Fire Chief Mike McGreal. "She was out in front of the building for two hours until someone said, 'You know what she did?' She wasn't ringing her bell."
"When we picked up and left, she got in her car and finished her shift and didn't say nothing," McGreal said.
Kaehler joined the Wheeling Police Department in 2008 and has spent time as an at-risk youth specialist and juvenile officer. In 2014, she was a school resource officer at Holmes and London middle schools in Wheeling Township Elementary District 21. There, she met many of the kids who live in Whippletree Village.
The following summer, one of the students spotted her out on patrol in the subdivision and said they were short for their basketball game. Kaehler joined in.
Soon enough, more and more officers began stopping by, and the impromptu games have grown organically since then.
"I know a good portion of the kids. They know who I am," Kaehler said. "We discuss grades, how school is going. It's like I have little friends in the trailer park."
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