Police officer risks fiery death to save woman in blazing house

As flames licked out the East Portland house’s windows, brave Officer Gedemynas Jakubauskas did something that makes neighbors say, “this man is an honest-to-goodness hero” …

This photo – taken by the Portland Fire & Rescue’s Dick Harris, just after firefighters knocked down the blaze – shows how serious this situation truly was.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
It was bitter cold, at 6:20 a.m., when Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) was alerted to an East Portland house on fire on January 26.

Crews reported they could see the column of smoke from a half-mile away as they rushed to the blazing house at 11341 SE Division Street. Bright orange fire and thick, black smoke belched out of the white clapboard home’s front windows.

Victims of the fire were lying in the front yard as crews pulled hoses and started attacking the fire. It took more than ten tense minutes for firefighters to bring the roaring blaze under control.

It was dark, and smoke was down to the two-foot level, when an officer crawled through this garage to find and rescue a woman who had passed out in the burning house.

Heroic cop doesn’t wait
Portland Police Bureau East Precinct Officer Gedemynas Jakubauskas, 43, was the first on-scene and called for help. One by one, Jakubauskas saw people who lived in the burning building crawl out of the house.

“Most of the occupants had escaped; one told the officer that a woman was still in the basement,” reported PF&R spokesman Lt. Allen Oswalt. “The officer crawled through the garage, through the smoke, entered the house, and located the woman at the top of the basement stairs.”

The woman didn’t respond when Jakubauskas called to her and took her arm, Oswalt told us. “He had to drag her from the burning building to a safe area in the front yard. Once in the front yard he was met by firefighters who took over medical care of the patient.”

Everyone involved in this fire says this man, East Precinct Police Officer Gedemynas Jakubauskas, is a genuine hero.

Shows courage and valor
East Precinct Night Sergeant David Galladay arrived on scene as Jakubauskas was pulling the 44-year-old woman to safety. “He was covered in soot, especially on his hands and face,” Galladay told us later. “He’d taken quite a bit of smoke, and the fire crew gave him oxygen.”

About Jakubauskas’ actions, Galladay said, “He put aside his personal safety to save another life. This action shows his courage and valor.”

In all, eight people were taken to Portland Adventist Hospital and treated for smoke inhalation, including two adult males, three adult females, two children, and one brave cop – Officer Jakubauskas.

PF&R Firefighter Specialist Jim Weitzel, working with the Station 7 Truck crew, helps overhaul the fire.

This pile of rubble was all that was left of the contents of this home, which fire inspectors said burned because someone had carelessly disposed of ashes.

Live ashes blamed for fire
Later, Oswalt told us that fire investigators from the Bureau determined that this house fire was caused by “ashes from a fireplace, disposed of improperly. It appears that one of the occupants put ashes from the fireplace in a cardboard box, and left the box in the living room.”

Firefighters recommend that ashes from any source, whether it be a fireplace, a grill, or anything else, be placed in a metal container with a tight-fitting lid. Then stir in water and put the container at least 10 feet from anything that will burn, Oswalt urged.

Workers from Multnomah County Animal Services say they cared for three dogs from the residence while the occupants were getting medical attention.

Don’t make these mistakes
Handling ashes and coals improperly results in several tragic fires every year, the Fire Bureau spokesman said. He advised residents not to make any of these three common mistakes:

  1. Assuming the ashes must now be cold. Coals can stay hot for a day or more!
  2. Putting the ashes in a plastic bucket or cardboard box – always use a metal container with a lid.
  3. Putting the ashes in the garage or on a deck – instead, put them outside, away from anything that will burn.

Firefighters recommend that ashes from any source, whether it be a fireplace or any other source, be placed in a metal container with a tight-fitting lid, and placed outside at least 10 feet from anything inflammable.

SE Division Street just east of SE 112th Avenue was closed during rush hour traffic on January 26, while firefighters fought the blaze and worked to save the occupants’ lives.

© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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