Cops recall saving man in burning home 


Without hesitation.

That’s how three Huntington Beach police officers describe their decision to charge into a burning apartment and rescue a 43-year-old man.

“We knew what we needed to do, and we needed to get into that apartment,” said Officer Raymond Garcia, pictured above. “We had a job to do.” 

Garcia, along with Sgt. Kevin Johnson and Officer John Spoolstra, pictured below, were the first to respond to an apartment fire at about 2:40 a.m. July 11 in the 6600 block of Warner Avenue.

7-21 Spoolstra Hero

“The fire was going pretty good,” Johnson said. “The whole balcony was burning and the flames were starting to go up toward the roof.” 

When the officers arrived at the apartment, the door was open.

They yelled into the smoke-filled space but were met only with the shrill beep of a smoke alarm and the crackling of flames threatening to dart from the balcony and enter the living room.

“Based on the time, we figured people were probably inside sleeping,” Spoolstra said.

“We felt comfortable going in and looking for residents.

“We just relied on our training and our experience.” 

Garcia and Spoolstra entered the bedroom. Johnson headed for the living room.

As the seconds passed, the smoke thickened. It was difficult to see and even more difficult to breathe.

“You could feel the heat, and you could hear the flames and the popping of things burning,” Garcia said. “It was a little intense.” 

Johnson found the man on the couch about 10 feet from the flames. He called the officers to help.

They didn’t know if he was sleeping or unconscious.

“I’m trying to wake this guy, and he’s not moving,” Johnson said. “We started shaking him and finally grabbed him and dragged him from the couch.” 

As the three were pulling the man down the hallway, the resident woke startled and struggled with the officers.

“I told him, ‘We are the police, your apartment is on fire,’” Johnson said.

They helped the resident to his feet and escorted him out.

On the way out, Johnson glanced in the kitchen and saw there was another resident in need of rescue.

The man’s black and white dog, Zoe, was sitting in the kitchen shaking.

The officers returned to the apartment, but the smoke was too thick to see inside.

Johnson called for Zoe.

She darted out of the apartment but continued running through the complex.

Officers found Zoe near Gothard Street and Slater Avenue. They gave the resident a ride so he could reunite with his dog.

“It was probably done in seconds but it felt like forever trying to get him out, trying to get ourselves out and trying to get his dog out,” Garcia said. “But our training kicked in, and everything went our way.” 

The Huntington Beach Fire Department was on scene within minutes to extinguish the flames.

Five neighboring apartment units were evacuated; nobody was injured.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

Johnson, Garcia and Spoolstra suffered minor smoke inhalation injuries but returned to finish their shift.

“Once we knew that there was no one seriously injured, it was a relief,” Garcia said.

“Then it was back to patrol, and on to the next call.”