When the fire rages: Dickinson PD's Jeremy Moser saves resident from burning trailer
Lying on his back in an entryway to his mobile home, Duane Decker didn't have much time.
It was pitch black the evening of Jan. 5 and smoke from the house fire that started just minutes earlier had already completely engulfed the residence. Oxygen was scarce. Time was running out.
For Duane, 66, to survive the blaze, it was looking more and more like he would need a miracle. Enter Officer Jeremy Moser of the Dickinson Police Department, the first responder to the 911 call.
"When I rolled up, there was a lot of smoke coming out of the residence," Moser said. "I ran up and spoke with three individuals who said someone was still in the house. I went into the home on my hands and knees and belly crawled to the living room area, but couldn't find anyone."
Twice Moser crawled into the burning home in search of the person he would later know to be Duane Decker. Twice he came out empty handed. A neighbor of the Deckers who was on the scene, however, said he heard moaning coming from the garage area. After entering through the attached garage, Moser went into a breezeway.
Although he couldn't see anything and had smoke bellowing into his lungs, Moser felt someone's heel. The third time was the charm. With little or no time to spare, Moser dragged Duane out of his home to safety and to his wife, Bonnie Decker, who had exited the home in front of her husband minutes earlier.
"Literally about 2 inches off the ground is all I could see," Moser said. "I was pushing my flashlight on the floor as I was belly crawling and that's all I could see. I saw the bottom of his heel and I grabbed it. He moved a little so I knew then he was still alive."
Moser said he estimated the temperature in the breezeway to be about 200 degrees if he had been standing. He would know -- Moser spent seven years as a volunteer with the Dickinson Fire Department. Saving lives isn't an exact science and nobody can know for sure, but if Moser hadn't been the first to the fire, it's very possible Duane wouldn't have made it out alive.
When reached by phone at the Regions Hospital Burn Center in St. Paul Wednesday, Duane had a simple, yet powerful message for the man who likely saved his life.
"Thank you," Duane, who works for Missouri Basin Well Service, said. "There's not much else to say besides thank you."
Duane was airlifted to Regions following the fire and, as of Wednesday evening, was recovering from smoke inhalation and burns to his head. Bonnie said Duane had a skin graft procedure done Tuesday morning for a burn she said was "the size of a grapefruit" on his head. Bonnie was treated for smoke inhalation at St. Joseph's Hospital in Dickinson and was released on Monday, she said. Duane could be out of the hospital by this weekend and both are expected to make full recoveries.
Bonnie -- who found herself outside in bare feet, frantically looking for her husband in a matter of seconds -- said it's still hard to believe how fast it all happened two Saturday evenings ago.
"We were sitting at the kitchen table," Bonnie said. "All of a sudden the smoke alarm went off and we noticed there was a fire in the bathroom. It was so quick. It's really amazing how disoriented you can become in your own home in a manner of seconds."
When Duane noticed the shower curtain in the bathroom was ablaze, Bonnie said he tried to put out the fire with a bathroom rug, although with the experience he gained, it's something he wouldn't try again.
"If there's a fire, don't try to fight it," Duane said from his hospital room. "Grab what you can and get out of there. Call 911 if you can, but just run out."
As for Moser, he said he doesn't think of himself as a hero, but rather as someone who drew on his training as a police officer and fire fighter.
"I've been in many structure fires in the past," Moser said. "I knew how to orientate myself so I had a way out after I went in. In that situation, somebody heard a groan -- there was a person in that building. I wasn't going to leave it so that I might wonder later on if I could have done something. Every second counts when you're a smoke inhalation victim."
Fellow Heartland Village residents Presley Pizzie, Robin Nunley and Casey and Jami Pelton were the first individuals to the scene. Moser said that without their help, things could have turned out much worse. Moser -- who said Pizzie went into the fire looking for Duane before he got to the scene -- added he hopes meet Duane formally after he's released.
"People are calling me a hero, and yes I did risk my life in a way, but I knew how far I could go in the home," Moser said. "I knew that I would only make things worse if I put myself in a situation where I was a second victim. It just happened so that (Duane) was there when I went in that third time. I honestly think any other law enforcement personnel would do the same thing."
DFD Chief Bob Sivak said the fire was still under investigation, although he confirmed that it started in a bathroom. Sivak said 26 firefighters responded to the blaze.
With their home unsalvageable, Bonnie said the Deckers will be searching for a new place to live in Dickinson, although she's just thankful everyone -- including the couple's chihuahua Minnie -- was able to get out of the burning home in time.
"Our family is just so thankful for the outpouring of support we've received," Bonnie said. "The community has been unbelievable. Officer Moser and the others who helped were unbelievable."
For his actions, Moser has been nominated to receive a North Dakota Peace Officers Association life-saving award.