DENHAM SPRINGS — After a coughing Jared Kreamer carried one woman from a burning house Thursday morning, he crawled back inside seeking a trapped man.
Able to see only about 6 inches ahead of him in the smoke and predawn darkness, the Denham Springs police officer edged his way toward the area where he had heard the sound of a man before.
“There was maybe 10 inches of clear air near the floor,” Kreamer said.
“I crawled toward where I had heard him,” the officer said. “Things were falling, and the fire was in the room.”
He said the smoke was so thick that he felt like he was about to lose consciousness.
“I had to come out,” he said.
After finding his way outside through the front door, he and other officers tried to reach Willie David Robertson, 64, through another door.
It was nailed shut, Kreamer said.
Kreamer eventually kicked that door in, but Robertson had fled toward another door in the rear of the house where the fire was most intense.
“I could hear him coughing and vomiting like me,” Kreamer said. “If he had stayed by the door (that had been nailed shut), I could have gotten him out.”
Denham Springs firefighters later found Robertson’s body. Shirley Spain, 66, was more fortunate.
Though she wasn’t breathing and had no pulse when Kreamer carried her from the burning house, a man wearing medical scrubs told Kreamer he would take over.
Michael Fritz, a nurse on his way home from work, revived Spain with cardiopulmonary resuscitation. She was admitted to a hospital, Police Chief Scott Jones said.
A second woman escaped the fire on her own. She and Kreamer were treated and released after medical attention for smoke inhalation, Jones said.
Kreamer said no other police or fire personnel had reached the burning house when he responded to a 911 call about 2:40 a.m. Thursday.
The blaze already was through the roof, he said, and added that branches of a tree above the house were catching fire.
“The rear of the dwelling was fully engulfed in flames,” Kreamer said. “Neighbors were screaming that someone was trapped inside.”
Kreamer forced his way through the front door and, despite the smoke, was able to find Spain fairly quickly .
He said he’d never been in a burning house before.
“I had always told my coworkers I would never go into a burning building,” Kreamer said. He has been a police officer for eight years, the last four of those years on the Denham Springs Police Department.
He said he didn’t think about the danger until after the incident was over.
State Fire Marshal H. “Butch” Browning praised Kreamer’s courage and credited him with saving a life.
“I’ve seen many circumstances where firefighters pulled people out of burning buildings,” Browning said. “This was one of the most dangerous. He went into a house full of smoke totally blind.”
Browning said the cause of the fire, remains under investigation.
The two women apparently awakened to find a mattress on fire, he said.
One of them escaped and Kreamer rescued the other. Robertson lived alone in a separate portion of the residence, Browning said.
The fire marshal said no foul play is suspected.
Browning said there were no fire alarms in the house, but a working fire alarm might have saved Robertson’s life.
Most fire deaths in Louisiana have occurred in homes lacking a working fire alarm, Browning said.
Denham Springs Fire Chief Melvin Wheat declared the house at 433 S. Summer St. a total loss.
Wheat said District 5 firefighters assisted the Denham Springs Fire Department in putting out the South Summer Street blaze.