08/25/2007

Fla. officer saves man from burning house

By Jerome Burdi
The South Florida Sun-Sentinel

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. As a child, Thomas Janis wanted to be a firefighter. On Tuesday night Janis, now a West Palm Beach police officer, realized his dream when he ran into a burning building and saved a man the day before the man's birthday.

Janis, 30, on the force for three years, was conducting a traffic stop about 11:30 p.m. at Village Boulevard and Shiloh Drive when a man ran toward him.

"He's screaming, 'My neighbor's in the house and he won't come out.' I took off running with the guy," Janis said.

Janis rushed to the home at 161 Heritage Way. The townhouse was gushing smoke. Janis saw a garden hose sticking out the doorway. He grabbed it and gave a tug. All he felt was dead weight on the other end.

"I wasn't sure if he was lying in the house unconscious," Janis said.

He closed his eyes so they wouldn't burn and followed the hose toward the man in the home. He found Craig Sisitsky, who turned 46 today, sitting on the floor, surrounded by flames. He was futilely spraying water on the floor.

"I got it, I almost got it," Sisitsky told Janis.

He wouldn't let go of the hose so Janis pried his hands free and dragged him to the ambulance.

"He tried several times to break my grasp, trying to get back into the house," Janis wrote in his report.

"I kept asking him why he wanted to get back in the house," Janis said. "He said he doesn't want his house to burn."

Janis, a certified emergency medical technician, realized Sisitsky had suffered smoke inhalation. He was taken to Columbia Hospital and is in fair condition, Fire-Rescue spokesman Phil Kaplan said.

It took firefighters about 20 minutes to control the blaze. The fire didn't appear to be suspicious, Kaplan said. Sisitsky had told Janis he left something on the stove.

Rushing into a burning building isn't a good idea, Kaplan said.

"Usually what happens is somebody runs in to save somebody and they'll get smoke inhalation and we have to drag them all out," Kaplan said.

Though running into a burning building is not encouraged, it has been done before. In February 2006, Boynton Beach Police Officer Charles Turco rescued an 86-year-old woman from her burning apartment, carrying her down the stairs to safety. That feat helped win him honors from police throughout the state.

Police have no policy about entering burning buildings.

"In many situations, including this fire, officers have to make split-second decisions and act on instinct," police spokesman Peter Robbins said. "They always keep the safety of the public and their own safety in mind. Officer Janis acted bravely and selflessly in a difficult situation and produced positive results."

Janis said his comrades on the force would do the same thing.

"I'm here to protect and save people's lives, and that's why I did it, and I probably would do it again under the same circumstances," he said. "Somebody was in there and somebody needed to get out. It was pretty basic."

Staff Researcher Barbara Hijek contributed to this report.

Copyright 2007 South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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