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Police officers, civilian saluted for efforts during Freehold Borough fire

FREEHOLD – Three officers who serve in the Freehold Borough Police Department and one citizen have been recognized for their efforts to help save a physically disabled man during a residential fire.

At the Borough Council’s May 3 meeting, citations were awarded to Sgt. Diego Flores, Patrolman Brian Ruegger and Patrolman Patrick Healey for saving a Vought Avenue resident from a house fire on March 9.

A citation was also awarded to Kamaal Cofer, a sanitation worker who reported the fire.

Lt. Richard Ciampa discussed the events of March 9, which began when police received a call from Cofer at 9:30 a.m. regarding a fire.

“Rather than minding his own business and driving by, (Cofer) called it in and did the right thing. Thankfully, because of him, this incident worked out,” Ciampa said.

He said the situation became more severe when the officers learned the fire was at a structure.

“The fire could have been a (garbage bin) fire or brush fire. When you hear it’s a structure fire, that’s one of those times where you move into gear. The hair on your neck stands up a little bit and you are moving,” Ciampa said.

Ruegger was close to the scene of fire when the call came in and was able to confirm a Vought Avenue home was on fire, according to the lieutenant. Ruegger reported that an individual was trapped inside the house.

“Now that gear kicked in so much higher. The last thing we want to deal with is somebody trapped in a burning house and this is what we had,” Ciampa said.

He said the situation was made more challenging because the individual who was trapped inside the house was older, disabled, disoriented and could not get to the front door.

“Brian is a pretty tall guy,” Ciampa said of Ruegger. “The window he was talking through was about 7 or 8 feet off the ground. And the guy wasn’t really willing to come to the window. He was talking, but he was disoriented. As Brian is trying to reach up into the window, he sees flames and smoke behind the guy. Now we have a really bad situation.”

With firefighters from the Freehold Fire Department not yet on the scene, Flores and Healey joined Ruegger to assist the trapped resident.

Ciampa described how Ruegger and Healey were able to coax the man to come close enough to the window so they were able to grab him and pull him out of the burning house.

“If it wasn’t for that, if they would have waited for the fire department or for someone to kick in the door with some sort of tool, there’s no chance that (trapped) person would have been alive,” the lieutenant said. “The fire was spreading and smoke was pouring out of the building. I was there and we could see the smoke from blocks away.

“(The officers) knew they had to get this guy out and they knew they had to make a decision quick. Thankfully, Brian made the split-second decision to get that person close enough to get him in his grasp.

“You talk about split-second decisions that are the difference between life and death and it’s something you can’t necessarily learn or train for. That’s in you and that was demonstrated on March 9,” Ciampa said.

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