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Utah officers hailed as heroes for saving tenants from burning complex

Blaze causes $1 million in damage to West Valley apartments

WEST VALLEY CITY — To residents of the Apartments at Decker Lake complex, West Valley police officers Joshua Cook and Oscar DeLeon are heroes.

But on Monday, hours after rescuing residents from a fully engulfed building, the two officers humbly shook off the praise, calling it just part of the job.

"Stuff needed to be done. And I did what needed to be done. I wasn’t really concerned for my safety. It was more everyone else,” said Cook.

"I was in the right place at the right time."

Early Monday, Cook, DeLeon and other officers from the West Vally Police Department went door to door at the apartment complex, 2184 W. 3100 South, waking up people, and in one case helping an older man escape through his second-floor window.

The fire caused an estimated $1 million in damage and forced the evacuation of about 50 people. But thanks to Cook, only one minor injury was reported.

"If he hadn't been there, it could've been much, much worse. I'm not sure there wouldn't have been some significant injuries," said West Valley Fire Battalion Chief Jed Peters.

Originally, the department reported two minor injuries.

Cook was writing reports while parked in his patrol car in a church parking lot about 2:30 a.m. Monday when he noticed smoke coming from a building at the apartment complex. The officer told dispatchers what was happening and went to the complex.

"From the time I got there it went from a window to fully engulfing the building before I could get to the other side of the building,” he said.

As Cook knocked on doors to wake up people, other officers began arriving. Then, while he was moving his patrol car out of the way for fire crews, officers learned that a man was trapped by fire on the second floor. Cook was told by his commander to drive immediately to where other officers were gathering so that they could use his patrol car to help reach the stranded tenant.

"He gave me permission to drive through a fence,” he said.

After driving through the vinyl fence, Cook positioned his car directly under the man's window, and DeLeon and others got onto the hood to help reach the tenant, who was "not in good physical shape to jump out of the window,” DeLeon said.

The rescue was caught on the officer's body cam.

"We just told him, ‘Hey, you have to jump, you have to jump, because there’s no way out, just that window,’” he said.

The man suffered some scrapes as he was helped out of the window, but Peters said that was the only reported injury.

The fire, he said, moved fast.

"The building was completely involved in fire" when crews arrived, the battalion chief said. "The fire usually gets a pretty good head start on us when it happens that early in the morning because there's usually no one awake to call 911."

Firefighters were forced to immediately go into a defensive attack, meaning water was poured onto the structure from the outside but crews could not enter the building. An estimated 40 firefighters were called to the scene.

Five of the eight units are considered total losses, Peters said. A second eight-unit building was also evacuated. Because of the amount of water that flowed into that structure, Peters said those tenants will also be out of their homes for a few days.

Between the two buildings, an estimated 45 to 50 people were evacuated. Damage was estimated at $1 million, Peters said.

The cause of the fire was still being investigated Monday "but appears to be electrical," according to West Vally firefighters. The Red Cross responded to help displaced residents.

As for being called heroes, Cook admitted "it's humbling." But the two officers, who have each been with West Valley City for three years or less, said it's what they signed up for.

"That’s why we do this job. That’s what we sign up for — to save and protect,” DeLeon said.

"We were not trying to go be heroes or anything. Just trying to help people that needed to be helped,” Cook added. "Honestly, it’s just another day at the job."