BY JOHN J. HOPKINS
Niagara Gazette — Two off-duty Lockport police officers training for a marathon stumbled across a fire Monday afternoon and are being credited — along with two on-duty officers — with rescuing a man from his burning basement.
Officer Mike Stover and Lieutenant Todd Chenez were nearing the end of a 2-mile run about 3:30 p.m. when they happened to see smoke coming from a home at 409 Hawley St.
"They heard the sirens and then saw the smoke," said Lockport Chief of Police Lawrence Eggert. "They said, 'Hey, it's right here.' They were in the right place at the right time."
The officers ran to the home and a woman told them that her husband was still inside.
Stover and Chenez were greeted by heavy black smoke, which twice drove them back. The woman then said that her husband was in the basement.
"They took two steps inside and it was as black as black could be," Eggert said of the first two attempts. "They were lucky that she told them he was in the basement."
By that point, Lockport police officers Anthony Pittman and Heather Rohde had arrived and the four went in together to search for the man.
Eggert said they found the victim on the basement stairs, where he had collapsed. The man's weight was estimated at 400 pounds, but Eggert said the four officers were able to lift him and pull him outside.
City firefighters were already on location when the four emerged from the smoke with the fire victim, who Eggert said was in "extreme physical distress." Fire rescue personnel immediately placed the victim on a gurney and began to treat him.
Stover and Chenez, suffering from smoke inhalation, were taken to the hospital for treatment. Without a city fire ambulance available, Stover was taken to the hospital in Eggert's vehicle.
"It's a little ironic," Eggert said, "Mike saved my life when I was shot 10 years ago. This was my chance to pay him back a little."
Eggert said Stover would remain hospitalized overnight for observation.
Pittman and Rohde were also treated for smoke inhalation but were both released.
The victim, whose name has not been released was first taken to Eastern Niagara Hospital - Lockport, but was later transferred to Erie County Medical Center.
"Those four officers saved his life," Eggert said. "The doctors and firefighters all said the same thing. A few seconds later and he may not have made it."
A dog was rescued from the house and was seen being handed over to the woman by a Lockport police officer. Eggert said there was a report that a cat was also in the house, but he did not know if the animal was found.
The fire is believed to have started in the basement, Eggert said.