Oregon Officer Saves Life of Fire Victim

Newport, OR -- Newport Police Officer Jerry Howe saved the life of a woman Tuesday evening when he pulled her from a burning house at 225 NE 10th Street.

Howe was on his dinner break at Abby's Pizza shortly before 7 p.m. when a person ran in to report a fire burning at a house about a block to the east. Howe said when he came out of the restaurant, "I could see flames probably 10 feet or so above the peak of the roof."

From a block away, it appeared the fire could have been in the back yard, but as he got closer, he knew it was a house fire. "I called in to LinCom (9-1-1 dispatch center) to let them know, and they said there had been a call already on that fire."

Howe went to the front of door of the residence, but before making entry, he touched it with the back of his hand - relying on his training as a volunteer firefighter with the Newport Fire Department. The door was warm, so he knew there were flames on the other side.

Howe then went into a carport to find a different access. In the carport he discovered a blanket hanging over another door, and tangled in the fringe at the bottom of this blanket was a small dog. The officer freed the dog from the blanket and then tried to shoo it away from the house. "But he just didn't want to go away," Howe said. "He stayed right there." That led him to believe there was probably someone still in the house, so he went inside.

Howe found himself in the kitchen, which was full of heavy smoke. "The smoke was (down to) about knee high, and just choking me to death," he said. Bent low to try to get below the smoke, he called out to anyone who might be in the house, and "I saw a pair of legs."

Howe grabbed those legs and began dragging the person toward the door. As he did so, that person - later identified as the homeowner, Jean A. Barnes, 56 - sat up, and he was able to get her to her feet. "I walked her out of the house into the carport, and the dog was still there," he said. With help from a citizen who had been standing by the street, Howe got Barnes to safety, and then another person brought the dog over. "The lady grasped the dog and just hung onto the dog," said Howe.

About that time, ambulance and fire personnel were arriving on the scene. Barnes was transported by Pacific West Ambulance to Samaritan Pacific Communities Hospital in Newport for treatment. She was later transferred to Legacy Emmanuel Hospital in Portland.

The house was engulfed in flames when the Newport Fire Department began battling the blaze. A total of 24 firefighters, two engines and a rescue truck remained on the scene for the next several hours.

According to the Newport Police Department, an investigation revealed that Barnes had started the fire intentionally in an attempt to commit suicide. The resulting fire caused substantial damage to the residence.

The quick action by Officer Howe prevented the loss of life in this situation. And it is the fourth time he has saved one or more lives during the course of his career, either in his role as firefighter or police officer.