October 12, 2005

Positivity: Fast Action by 4 Saves 2 from Blaze

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 6:07 am

From the Arizona Republic (may require registration; reproduced in full):

Houssein Jabbar was standing outside his father’s liquor store, waiting for customers, when he saw the flames from the corner of his eye.

The house five yards away was on fire. The house where the two little kids lived.

Jabbar and co-worker Hussein Abdel-Salaam jumped the fence. Jabbar grabbed a pick and started smashing windows. He kicked in the door.

Across the street, Phoenix police Sgt. Mike Todd and Officer Mike Gaspar had just finished their shifts Wednesday and were pulling into a gym when Gaspar saw the flames.

“I looked over, and the house was fully engulfed,” Todd said. “Flames were shooting up 15 to 20 feet in the air.”

Todd and Gaspar dodged traffic across the street, yelling and banging on doors and windows to get the attention of the family inside. They weren’t sure how many people were there. All they knew is Jabbar had heard a scream come from the house, near 59th Avenue and Indian School Road.

They figured anybody inside still had a “pretty good chance of getting out,” Todd said.

All four bent low and went inside, searching room to room in thick black smoke. They held their breath as long as they could, then tried to breathe as little as possible.

Five minutes ticked away.

“The living room was just engulfed,” Jabbar said. “It was like something from the movie with all the fire on the roof.”

Then, in the back bedrooms, they found a mother and her 13-year-old son. The father was in the back yard, attempting to douse the flames with a garden hose. Jabbar said the couple’s 6-year-old daughter was with her father.

“Come on! We gotta go! Your house is on fire!” Jabbar yelled.

The family had to be ushered to safety through a kitchen and the burning living room. Also rescued was the family bird.

“We weren’t thinking about getting hurt,” Jabbar said Thursday. “We weren’t thinking about dying or getting burnt. We were worried about them. We’ve got to get them out fast. Good thing we got them out in time.”

The fire started in a gas generator in a shed and spread to the home, Assistant Fire Chief Bob Khan said. Damage was estimated at $20,000.

“I would certainly credit them with saving this family,” Khan said. “What they did was heroic. God bless ‘em for doing it.”

On Thursday, Todd downplayed any talk that he was a hero, instead giving the kudos to Jabbar and Abdel-Salaam, who risked their lives when they didn’t have to.

Todd said he simply assessed a situation and reacted, something he does all the time as an officer.

“When it comes to saving life, you just do it,” Todd said. “You don’t think about what could happen. You just think about saving lives.

“To have citizens step forward and do that themselves, that was a tremendous, remarkable thing to see.”

“We don’t need thanks, nothing like that,” Jabbar said. “It was the right thing to do. You don’t just walk by and watch the house burn. You make sure nobody’s inside.

“If one of those people had got hurt or killed, and I hadn’t tried to do anything, I don’t think I could have lived with myself.”

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