Police officers, retired firefighter lauded for life-saving efforts at fire
It was standing room only and then some last week, when the Saukville Village Board hosted an award presentation for two police officers and a retired firefighter who rescued a man from his smoke-filled apartment on Jan. 20.
After detailing the circumstances in which the 63-year-old Saukville man was led out of his smoke-choked apartment on North Dries Street, Police Chief Jeff Goetz presented Officer Matt Caswell with the department’s Medal of Honor, Officer Emily Neese with the Gold Coin Award and retired fire department Captain Rick Gillson with the Silver Coin Award.
“Thanks to the actions of our three honorees today, one life was saved and several other were removed from harm’s way,” Goetz said.
Shortly after the police presentation, Saukville Fire Chief Gilly Schultz presented heroism commendations to the three.
Police and fire department members and their families filled the meeting room. Also attending were the victim and Waubeka Fire Chief Jason Caswell, Officer Caswell’s brother.
Goetz recapped the incident that led to the heroic rescue.
At approximately 11:25 a.m., officers Neese and Caswell were dispatched — along with the Saukville Fire Department — to the apartment building after receiving a report of smoke in a hallway.
Neese began evacuating residents from the building when she noticed “thick, black smoke coming from the upstairs window” of an apartment. Other tenants said a man may still have been inside that unit.
After re-entering the building, Neese heard coughing coming from the dead-bolted apartment and kicked-in the door, encountering heavy smoke.
At that time, Caswell approached the building and saw a man at the apartment window, trying to get fresh air as smoke poured out the window.
The officer was familiar with the layout of the apartments, and enlisted the help of Gillson in trying to lead the trapped man out of the smoke.
Goetz said “Caswell started crawling toward the window where the subject was last seen, all the while calling out.”
Gillson laid down on the floor, his feet near the threshold, hanging onto Caswell, “basically establishing a human chain” to counter the disorienting effect of the rolling smoke.
After reaching the victim, the officer got him to lay on the floor and pulled him to where Gillson was waiting.
The victim was taken to waiting EMS personnel while Caswell went back into the smoky apartment, checking for others inside.
Firefighters from Saukville, Port Washington, Grafton and Cedarburg then took over the fire call.
Because of the quick response, Goetz said “there were no other victims or injuries, and property damage was kept to a minimum.”
Authorities said a network of extension cords were probably the source of the fire, which was confined to the single apartment.
The fact the award presentation was made as part of the Village Board meeting was not missed by those in attendance.
Also on the night’s agenda was a vote on $2.7 million in bonding.
“While I have some exciting news on the bids received, it is nothing compared to what we just heard,” said Mike Harrigan, the village’s financial consultant.