On Sept. 11, Sergeant Noe Garcia of the Lovell Police Dept. and Deputy Roger Haney of the Big Horn County Sheriff’s Dept. received the Wyoming Peace Officer Association Valor Award for risking their own safety to save two toddlers from a gas-filled apartment in Lovell. The two were surprised with the award at a special conference held in Casper.
“This is a tremendous honor for these two officers and was related to a call for service where two young children were left alone in an apartment and the gas stove had been left on, filling the apartment with gas,” said Lovell Police Chief Nick Lewis. “These two officers went into the apartment and took the children outside away from the dangerous situation, risking their own safety while doing so.”
The incident occurred on Sept. 26, 2012, at around 2 a.m. The children who were in danger were 3 and 18 months old and had been left alone in the apartment while their mother was drinking in a local bar.
“A report came in from some concerned citizens who overheard the mother in the bar say that she had left the children home alone,” said Garcia.
The concerned citizens left the bar to check on the children at the apartment and could smell gas leaking from the apartment. They reported the incident to police.
“We really have to give credit to those people who took the initiative to report this after overhearing a conversation in a bar,” said Haney. “They probably saved these kids’ lives by following through on this and calling when they smelled gas. Otherwise, we would have had no way of knowing and it might have been too late for the children.”
When Garcia and Haney went to check on the children, they could smell gas coming from the apartment.
“By the time we got there, the gas was really strong,” said Garcia. “When we entered we saw one child, the older one, on the bed. It looked like maybe he was asleep. The little one was awake but sitting on the floor.”
Garcia said he took one child and Haney took the other out of the apartment to safety. They re-entered the apartment and searched for a third child who they heard may be in the apartment.
“We were told that there were three children living there, so we spent a good amount of time making sure the third child was not in the apartment,” said Garcia. “We actually ended up spending a lot more time in there than we wanted, but we had to make sure there wasn’t another child in there somewhere. We found out later on that Grandma and Grandpa had the third child.”
“I think they (Garcia and Haney) did a really good job. They definitely saved those children’s lives,” said Lewis. “It was good that citizens stepped up and made the call. With an apartment full of gas like that, where seconds count, they averted a tragedy. There could have been an explosion and there were all sorts of potential hazards in that situation that could have cost lives.”
Garcia said when the fire department crew arrived later, they told him they were surprised that there wasn’t an explosion with that amount of gas leaked into the air in the apartment. It was determined later that a burner had been left on without a flame on the gas stove in the apartment for a considerable amount of time.
“We didn’t even think about it being dangerous or anything like that,” said Garcia. “We could smell the gas was really strong and we knew there were little kids in there and we just went in and got the kids out.”
Haney said he really didn’t think of what they did as any “big deal.”
“This is what we do; this is our job,” he said. “We didn’t even think twice about it. We both have children of our own, so this sort of thing really hit close to the heart for us. We knew there were little kids in danger and we just focused on getting them out.”
“He took one and I took the other,” said Garcia. “We carried them out like they were our own kids. The little one on the bed wasn’t even responsive. We did a chest rub on him and that got him to wake up a bit and we just got him outside as quickly as we could.”
The two were asked to attend the conference by their superiors but had no idea that they were to receive the award. They both said they were very surprised to hear their names called because neither one really thought about the incident as being anything outside of their normal duties. They were nominated for the award by their supervisors and they were selected for the award from a field of several other peace officers also nominated for similar acts of courage.
“It’s great that they got recognized for this,” said Lewis. “It was very brave what they did, and they definitely put themselves in danger in order to save the lives of these children. I know they don’t think it was a big deal what they did, but it was a big deal. A very big deal.”
by Patti Carpenter