Local life savers
Three local law enforcement employees humbly received a lifesaving award for their heroic efforts
Amid black smoke pouring out the door and flames dancing across the ceiling, three local first responders saved a family from perishing in a resident fire in February.
The individuals who were inside the residence would most likely have died in the fire had it not been for their heroic and unselfish acts. Crook County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Ryan Seany and Sergeant Travis Jurgens, along with Prineville Police Officer James Peterson, were awarded an Oregon State Sheriff’s Association Life Saving Award for the incident that occurred on Feb. 2, 2012.
The award was presented to the three men at an awards banquet held earlier this month at the Riverhouse in Bend. Crook County Sheriff Jim Hensley said that the Oregon State Sheriff’s Association Annual Conference is held every year, and an awards banquet is held to recognize law enforcement personnel for outstanding efforts and actions.
“They were all working that night, and it appears that Sergeant Jurgens arrived first,” commented Hensley. “They were in the area and responded, and took action right away.”
Every day, law enforcement and first responders put themselves in harm’s way to protect the public. On that early morning in February, Jurgens, Seany, and Peterson entered a burning house without regard for their own personal safety.
At 1 a.m., they were all dispatched and converged on the scene of the fire on Harwood and Fifth Street, and there were already several people standing in the yard.
“I arrived with my sergeant, and I had to park the car to make sure it was out of the way of trucks,” indicated Seany. “I didn’t know he had gone into the house already.”
Seany said that he came up to the yard with Officer Peterson, and they were talking to a girl that said there were more people inside.
“There was black smoke rolling out of the front door of the house — it was open and it was pouring out,” Peterson said.
They would have collided with Jurgens, who had gone inside, if they had gone in a second faster, as he came out with a child in his arms.
Sergeant Jurgens had found a young female in one of the rooms, and told her to head to the front door. He watched to confirm she was headed in the right direction. He then entered another bedroom, while crawling on his hands and knees due to the thick and deadly smoke. There, he found an unresponsive man, whom he managed to rouse. He told him the house was on fire, and the man indicated that he didn’t know where his young son was at.
Jurgens checked the upper bunk by feeling with his hands, since the smoke was so thick. There wasn’t a child on the upper bunk, but he found a child under a blanket on another bed. He scooped the young child up in his arms, threw a blanket over him, and told the man to follow him and stay close. He headed to the front door of the residence.
“He yelled ‘down the hall and to the left,’ and so we went in and found the dad that was in there,”’ said Seany as they met Jurgens at the front door.
He and Peterson then checked the rest of the house to make sure no more family members were in there. Seany said that the smoke was heavy, and the smoke gets increasingly thicker and lower in a house fire.
Peterson said that the smoke was coming from the back part of the house, and he could feel the heat coming out of the rooms.
“It was pretty intense,” added Peterson.
He could see that the fire was coming up the wall and starting along the ceiling of the room he was in. There was a bunk bed, and he wanted to make sure there wasn’t anybody else in there.
Peterson jumped up on the bed to make sure there wasn’t anyone on the other side of it, being careful not to get burned.
Shortly after they checked the house the final time, they exited just as the fire department arrived. No one in the residence, including the law enforcement personnel, received injuries — except minor smoke inhalation.
Seany said it was nice to be recognized.
“It was important for me to keep in mind that officers are doing this every day — all over Central Oregon and all over the country,” he commented. “It is part of what we do.”
He added that there were a lot of law enforcement officers who could have received this award this year.
Peterson said that they are sometimes the first ones on scene to structure fires. He said that when information about a structure fire comes over the scanner, they always respond.
“A lot of stuff happens in just a very short period of time.”
He said the entire incident of getting family members out lasted approximately 30 seconds, because they go in and check rooms very quickly.
“I’m not that much for accolades,” noted Peterson. “I knew when I signed up to do this job there would be times when I would be dealing with very unpredictable stuff. Going into the house isn’t anything that any other officers here or at the Sheriff’s Department or from the Oregon State Police wouldn’t have done in the same situation.”
“We probably don’t do a good enough job of patting ourselves on the back when all the good things happen in this community that we play a role in,” commented Prineville Police Department Police Chief Eric Bush. “But that is really not what we signed up to do — we don’t hire people who are looking for pats on the back, we hire people who want to serve.
“It is personally satisfying to the officers whether they admit it or not, when they have a positive result for a service they provided for the community.”
“I’m very proud of them and we are very blessed to have that caliber of people that work here,” indicated Hensley. “They are a fine example of the type of people that we have here at the Sheriff’s Office and the Police Department, and people ought to rest better at night knowing that they have people like Sergeant Jurgens, Deputy Seany and Officer Peterson protecting them at night.”