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A small apartment building is covered in plywood with icicles covering each balcony.

RCMP officers save lives in daring fire response

RCMP officers were the first on the scene at the fire. Credit: RCMP


When RCMP in Saskatchewan got a call about an apartment fire on a frigid January night in North Battleford, officers from the local North Battleford detachment were the first on the scene.

When Cst. Heather Healey arrived, she saw intense flames and thick, black smoke pouring out of the three-storey building's doors. Some building residents were already gathering outside, but many more remained stuck on their balconies yelling for help as smoke filled the hallways. Healey immediately radioed for more officers and within minutes, others arrived and sprang into action.

"When I was pulling up, there was tons of smoke. People were out on the balconies screaming for help and people were running around outside the apartment," says RCMP Sgt. Will Picard. "It was pure chaos. Everyone was asking for help."

Leap of faith

The fire department was still on its way and officers had to think fast to help people out of the burning building. Both stairwells in the building were on fire leaving the apartment balconies the only way to safety. Some residents used bedsheet ropes to lower themselves to the ground from the second floor while RCMP officers caught their feet to slow their descent.

Picard, Cst. Colton Cassaday, and a handful of residents already outside linked arms to form a basket to catch a family jumping to safety from their third-floor balcony. One by one, the family members jumped into their arms making it down with only minor injuries.

"The fire was making its way over to their side and I remember thinking in my head: 'No one is dying tonight. Everyone is getting out.' I remember saying that over and over to my self. 'Nobody is going to die tonight,'" says Cassaday. "I've been to lots of fires, but nothing as bad as that."

As officers helped residents, the fire grew. "Within five to ten minutes the whole bottom floor was on fire," says Picard. "It surprised me how quick it was."

Into the smoke

When the first two firefighters arrived, officers grabbed a ladder off their truck to help residents on the other side of the building climb down. Then, a resident on the ground said his wife was likely still inside a third-floor apartment. Picard climbed up to check.

"I couldn't see or hear anything and then all of the sudden I heard some banging on the windows," says Picard. He climbed over the balcony railing and into the apartment, and helped the panicked woman to the balcony for air. By that time, another firetruck arrived and firefighters helped the woman the rest of the way down.

"[Picard] just disappeared into the smoke," says Cassaday. "We were holding the ladder and the fire was getting closer and the ladder was getting hot. He was running out of time and we were yelling at him to get down."

The aftermath

After the successful evacuation, 17 residents and six first responders were transported to hospital to be assessed and treated. While most were unscathed, one person had non-life threatening injuries. "The officers on watch were fantastic that night. Everyone knew we had to buckle down and we were saving lives," says Picard, the watch commander the night of the fire.

RCMP Sgt. Adam Buckingham, who led the team investigating how the fire started, says officers began investigating immediately by collecting statements from residents. Through the investigation, they found the fire to be suspicious. Two people are now facing arson charges related to the incident. "Afterward, the fire investigators weren't able to get beyond the ground level due to destruction of the stairways," says Buckingham. "There was no way to safely get to the upper floors."

A few weeks after the fire, RCMP Cst. Joshua Trefry, who was on scene helping with the rescues the night of the fire, was running errands while a member of the public stopped to thank him. The man explained how the RCMP helped his wife, who was pregnant, out of the fire that night and how grateful he was for the officers.

"He said: 'That night of the fire, you [officers] saved my wife. She wouldn't have made it out if you didn't help her,'" says Trefry. "That hit me pretty hard and it almost brought me to tears. It's touching."

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