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Saturday, Apr. 30, 2016

Stemm modest about saving life

Friday, May 7, 2004

While patrolling the streets at night, a policeman never knows what he may encounter. He may find himself in a situation that calls for an immediate response. Sometimes, with little time to think through his plight, conditions may demand that he act quickly. Most accept this as just part of the job.

The actions of Brazil City Police Officer Todd Stemm saved a man's life last year. It was cold that January night of 2003, and the ground was covered with snow. Stemm was patrolling the town, driving east on Pinckley Street. Just after midnight, he heard the 911 dispatcher, Beth Flora, dispatch the Van Buren Volunteer Fire Department to a house fire in Knightsville.

She advised Clay County Deputy Matt Weber, who was on duty at the time, that Eric Williams was in the house and apparently was losing consciousness. Williams had called 911, told the dispatcher he tried to put the fire out himself but couldn't. Then he said he had to get out of there.

The dispatcher could no longer communicate with Williams. But she thought she heard him fall, still in the house. Weber was covering a call in the southern part of the county. Stemm was at Murphy Avenue on Pinckley, less than two miles from the fire, so he responded.

He saw nothing when he got there. The electrical fire which had started in the bathroom had produced no flames but lots of smoke. There was no activity. Stemm was first at the scene. He went up to the door. Finding it locked, he forced it open with a quick sharp kick.

"The house was dark and full of smoke," Stemm said, recalling the incident. "I yelled for him but got no answer. So I started crawling around the house on the floor, trying to stay low under the smoke."

Stemm found Williams in the kitchen near the back door. He was unconscious. Apparently he'd tried to get out but passed out.

"I found a side door, opened it up and drug him out away from the house."

Williams, thought to be in his late 30s or early 40s, was alive but his breathing was labored. Stemm tried to wake him. He yelled and shook Williams trying to get him to respond. Finally Williams began coughing.

Another City unit arrived with Officers Anthony Hapenny and Jason Frazier. Then, almost simultaneously, the fire department, the ambulance and Dep. Weber arrived on the scene.

Williams was laying barefoot with just his nightclothes on. The officers picked him up and carried him to the ambulance. The EMTs immediately put him on oxygen and transported him to the hospital. Williams' face and clothes were covered with black soot from the smoke and he was coughing profusely. But he was alive.

Williams was treated and released from the hospital after several hours. Before his release he asked that Stemm come up to see him.

He thanked the officer for saving his life. Stemm responded by apologizing for kicking in the door.

"To me it wasn't nothing special," Stemm said. "I just happened to get there first. There were a lot of other people on their way who would have done the same thing. I just happened to be the closest."

Brazil Police Chief Loudermilk was not chief of police at the time of this incident. However, he worked with Stemm and thinks he responded well to the situation.

"This is what we train and encourage our officers to do," he said. "They're to identify a problem and take action immediately to solve the problem.

"Because we have a good working relationship with the Sheriff's Department," Loudermilk continued, "we help them out of town and they, likewise, come into town to help us when needed.

"I wasn't the chief then, but I worked with Todd. He was told of a problem and took initiative to take care of the problem. He's a very good officer."

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