By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
A Lovell police officer has been given the department’s “Lifesaver Award” for his role in saving an 8-year-old boy from a deadly fire.
Officer Dusty Schultz, who has been with the department since 2018, was honored last week by the Lovell Town Council for saving the life of a young boy trapped in a house fire on Montana Street in Lovell on March 4.
“That (award) is reserved for when an officer goes above and beyond the expectations of service, and actually their actions end up saving a person’s life,” Police Chief Dan Laffin told Cowboy State Daily.
Schultz and Big Horn County Sheriff’s Deputy Jeff Angell worked together to prevent what would have been a terrible tragedy, Laffin noted, in an incident that no one in the department will soon forget.
“You know, it’s one o’clock in the morning, the whole family’s asleep,” he said. “The house caught on fire. There was a raging fire at this point. And the family had three small children. In the chaos of rounding everybody up, they thought they got everybody out. But there was an 8-year-old boy still trapped inside the house.”
Not Much Time
Officer Schultz told Cowboy State Daily that he and Deputy Angell were the first on the scene.
“Big Horn County Deputy Jeff Angell and I were in the Annex at the police department, and dispatch received a call – the dispatcher put it on speaker so we could hear what was going on – and it was a pretty frantic person trying to get help to the house because everything was evolving pretty quickly,” he said.
Schultz said he and Angell headed straight for the scene, where they found people gathered outside of the burning building. The way the structure was being consumed, Schultz said he knew they had very little time.
“In a lot of situations in law enforcement, you have time to think about things,” he said. “This is one of those situations where you really don’t; this is where you really rely on instinct.”
Schultz said he and Angell hurried around the house, shining their flashlights in windows and listening for any sounds of life from inside.
“We had to walk around the flames and it was so hot,” he recalled. “I mean, you could feel it just burning your face as you’re walking by. And as I was walking looking for an entry, I heard what I thought was a faint cry. It was really hard to hear, because when a fire like that is going, I mean, it’s super loud.”
“I Could Hear Him”
In trying to pinpoint the location of the voice, Schultz said he and Angell eventually came to one particular window, through which they could see nothing.
“I could hear him, but I couldn’t tell if he was in the room, or if he was in the hallway outside of the room, or in the room across the hallway,” he said. “And then I figured if I could hear him he could hear me.”
However, the closed window was a problem, and because Schultz said he doesn’t have any formal fire training, he relied on Angell, an experienced firefighter, for guidance.
“I know from fires, you don’t go and break windows out in fires because if you provide oxygen to the fire it gets worse,” he said. “So I told (Angell), I said, ‘I can hear a boy crying in here, can I break the window?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, the fire has already vented. You can break the window.’”
Schultz said he used his expandable baton to break the window, which wasn’t easy, because it was framed in metal.
“I began beating on the window as hard as I could – I actually bent my baton a little bit,” he said. “I was beating on it pretty good, trying to make a hole big enough to fit through, either for me or for a child. And the whole time I’m beating on the window, Deputy Angell, he’s screaming through the window the kid’s name, Connor, telling him to come to the window.”
“The Smoke Was So Thick”
Schultz and Angell called loudly to the child for what felt like many, many minutes, but in reality, was just a short time.
“It felt like 45 minutes, but it was really only maybe three minutes,” Schultz said, “We made a hole big enough for a child to fit through, and we shined a flashlight in there – and I mean, you couldn’t see more than four inches through the window into the room. (The smoke) was so thick.”
“And it’s very discouraging at that point, because you think, if I can’t see in there, and the smoke is that bad, is this kid going to be able to move? Is he still alive? And it got real quiet. I couldn’t hear the boy.
“And I told Deputy Angell to move back a little bit so I could break the window open some more, and just as he stepped back, he told me to stop, and he shined his flashlight in there, and then Connor’s face just came right through the smoke,” he continued.
Schultz said Deputy Angell reached in the window and pulled the boy out, walking him to safety. The boy is still undergoing breathing treatments, Schultz said, but was not burned in the fire.
Schultz said that in his opinion, incidents like this reiterate the need for emergency service cross-training for officers, which he said Chief Laffin is actively promoting.
“I’m a police officer, not a firefighter, so this is the last thing I was trained for or expected,” he said. “We’re all CPR certified. We all carry AED’s, so we’re ready for medical emergencies. I think this incident might spark some interest in being a little cross trained as far as what we can and can’t do with fires. I know the assistant fire chief, when I was speaking to him the night of the fire, he talked about doing a basic course for all first responders.”
Schultz added that in a town the size of Lovell, the police department is the only emergency service that is on duty 24 hours a day.
“And so when we get a call, whether it’s a med call or a fire call, we’re first on scene 99.9% of the time,” he pointed out.
Even though Schultz was the officer who was recognized by the Lovell Town Council last week, Laffin said he wanted to be sure to stress that Schultz didn’t save this young boy’s life all by himself.
“Dusty Schultz received the Lovell Police Department Lifesaver Award because it is a departmental award,” he explained. “That is not to say that Jeff Angell didn’t carry out the same exact tasks that Dusty Schultz did, and I’m sure his agency will recognize him at some point for sure.”
Although the police department in Lovell has only six sworn officers (Laffin pointed out that no police chief will ever say that they have enough officers in their department, they could always use more), he noted that he couldn’t be prouder of the people on his team.
“My new patrol sergeant, who just came up last year from Texas, he was stopped on the street by people – just randomly by citizens – telling him that this is the best police department they have ever seen in the town alone,” Laffin said. “So I’m extraordinarily proud.”
Laffin added that the “Lifesaver Award” has only been issued once before in the history of the department, and that was last year.
“Officer Shantel Stahl responded to a cardiac patient who’s having a heart attack,” Laffin said. “So she rushed in there, performed CPR and actually regained the man’s heart rate and pulse. He ended up being life flighted for further cardiac care, but he made a full recovery. And he actually presented the medal to Officer Stahl during the ceremony.”