How 3 Glendale Heights officers saved 6-year-old, evacuated building during condo fire
The sound of an explosion. Windows shattering. And moments later, thick, black smoke billowing out of a condominium building.
Other than those split-second observations, Glendale Heights police officers Bradley Lautner, Grzegorz Kapusciak and Robin Lambert had no context of the situation at hand or the dangers ahead as they ran into the Waters Edge condo complex where the blast had just occurred.
They didn't have time to hesitate or contemplate their next steps. All they could think about was getting the occupants out safely.
A father and 4-year-old son suffered gunshot wounds to their heads and were found dead inside the condo after the Aug. 24 fire, which authorities say is suspicious and under investigation. But Glendale Heights Police Chief Douglas Flint said the three officers prevented further tragedy by saving the life of a 6-year-old boy and successfully evacuating the burning building.
"The bravery exemplified by these officers is beyond heroic," he said. "It just goes to the professionalism of law enforcement and dealing with what's in front of you and reacting and putting the safety of those that they were honored to serve and protect ahead of the safety of themselves."
Kapusciak was the first to arrive at the scene that day for a well-being check on a woman crying outside her residence, he said. He had been talking her for about five minutes when the other officers pulled up. That's when they heard the explosion.
The woman told officers her children were inside, sending them running into the building toward the unit where the blast had occurred.
In a dashcam video that captured the scene from outside the complex, an officer can be heard saying, "We've got kids in the house. We're going to be going in."
It was hard to see anything through the smoke, Lautner said, but as he walked a few feet in the door of the second-floor unit, a child suddenly appeared at his side. Lautner picked up the boy and handed him to Kapusciak, who carried him safely out of the building.
Unable to re-enter the unit, the officers yelled out multiple times to see if anyone else was inside but got no response, they said. The fire was gaining intensity, the heat was becoming unbearable, and they struggled to breathe.
Their next course of action was helping the other residents escape the three-story building, working their way down from the top floor.
"I've been to several fires, but none have been like this," said Lambert, a 28-year veteran who was 10 shifts away from retirement. "This is kind of a rare experience. But it's our job. You have to do what needs to be done."
Firefighters responded about 10 a.m. and extinguished the blaze in 20 to 30 minutes, officials said, though crews remained on the scene for hours to put out hot spots. Three firefighters were taken to the hospital with symptoms of heat exhaustion, and one suffered a shoulder injury.
The police officers and the 6-year-old boy also were taken to the hospital, treated and released, officials said.
"We couldn't be prouder of the actions of our officers," Deputy Police Chief Brandon Oliver said. "They obviously knew there was a fire. There had just been an explosion. They didn't know what else was going to happen. They just knew there were people in that building in danger who needed assistance."
DuPage County Coroner Richard Jorgensen said gunshots are the provisional causes of death for the father and son whose bodies were recovered after the fire. Preliminary autopsy results determined they "would not have been saved by further heroic efforts," he said.
Some police officers go an entire career without witnessing or responding to such circumstances, Oliver said, expressing his condolences to the loved ones of those who died. But the officers at the scene that day handled the tragedy and chaos as they would any other situation: unselfishly and with an obligation to the community.
"We come across in-progress events all the time, and we're just going off reaction and guts and instinct and, maybe most importantly, the preservation of life to try and save someone," Flint said. "That is just what's built into law enforcement officers."
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