An Aberdeen Police Department officer saved the life of an older disabled man in January from a house fire on the outskirts of Downtown Aberdeen.
Officer Brandi Slater, a five-year veteran of APD, called it a “scary moment.”
For Slater’s efforts on that early morning, Thursday, Jan. 13, APD Chief Steve Shumate honored her with a “Lifesaving Award,” medal and plaque at the Aberdeen City Council meeting on Wednesday, May 11, inside the council chambers.
Given her hectic schedule — she also trains at the K9 training program — her night had to wait.
With quite a few APD officers in attendance, including the officer in charge of that shift, Officer David Tarrence, Slater stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Shumate as he proudly told the council about her heroic efforts to save not just one man, but a second person who helped her carry him out.
Then, Shumate thanked Slater for her actions.
“And so, we are very confident that Brandi’s actions saved lives that early morning in January,” he said. “I personally want to thank Officer Slater for her efforts.”
Shumate also brought up how Slater had to find the correct house after dispatch reported the fire was in the 600 block of West Market Street, instead of the 600 block of West 1st Street.
“But as is often the case, we will go there and a situation is not there to be found,” he said.
The incorrect address didn’t stop Slater, who described the structure fire call that led to her heroic save.
“I didn’t know if there was actually anybody still inside the house,” Slater said. “When I arrived, I could see smoke billowing out of the house. And so I knew, ‘OK, this must be where it’s at.’”
She remembered the windows and doors to the house were shut.
Slater said how at that point, Aberdeen Fire Department firefighters were on their way, and how she was the first police officer on-scene. The other officers who had responded to the original address, as Slater had, were not yet on scene.
Given the situation, it’s good that Slater got there when she did.
“I got information from dispatch that there was somebody still inside the house,” Slater said. “I thought ‘Oh my gosh, I have to get in there.’ I opened the front door. I learned how dangerous it actually is to open the front door of a house that’s on fire. I guess (with) the flames, the oxygen will feed it in, (and then the flames) can rush out and injure you pretty good.”
Once Slater opened the front door, the smoke came billowing out.
“It just hit me like a ton of bricks,” Slater said. “I thought, ‘there’s no way I’m gonna be able to get inside this house. It’s too dangerous. There’s too much smoke at this point.’”
But, then she heard somebody inside. While she couldn’t tell what room the voice was coming from, someone was calling for help.
“And so I was like, ‘I have to get in there.’ I walked in, and realized I couldn’t breathe, so I stepped back out. But I heard them calling for help again. I was like, ‘hold my breath and go.’”
Slater recalled how in trying to feel her way through the thick smoke that blinded her that she ran into somebody inside the house.
“That was when I was able to find him and drag him out,” Slater said. “Luckily, there was someone in there with him, so that person helped me with the weight of it. I didn’t know if I would have been able to do it by myself. It was a scary moment.”
Slater said about two minutes later, the flames busted out all the windows.
“The windows shattered because it got so big so fast,” Slater said. “It was (when) time was really of the essence in that moment. It was scary. I told the firefighters, ‘I don’t know how you do what you do, because fire’s not for me.’”
She recalled how the total call, from arriving on West Market Street, to then driving around a couple blocks and finding the fire at West 1st Street that it was “not much more than a minute” before she found the house. Then from when she found the house on fire to when she got the people out, it was maybe another minute or so.
“But it happened really fast, so my estimate of time is probably way off,” Slater said.
It seems APD made the right choice in hiring Slater, who’s glad to be working in Aberdeen after having applied to about 75 different police agencies throughout the state.
Slater, who once took a middle school trip to the Washington State Patrol Academy, said that day she realized she wanted to be a police officer. For a self-described “thrill seeker,” it’s clear, she has no regrets.
“I honestly feel like I have the best job in the world,” she said.