Richmond Police officers, who risked their lives to save a man who set himself on fire, described the situation for the first time Friday. In a ceremony at The November Theatre, those officers were honored by the police department for the incident that happened in The Fan last October.
They were given the department's Medal of Valor for an act of outstanding bravery. The story from that Saturday in October begins with a regular patrol call for a violent domestic incident. The officers quickly learned there was nothing regular about this call.
Radio traffic grew more and more alarming as Officers David Chandler, Tony Cornett, Kenneth Jacob and John Raina raced to the home on West Grace Street. It couldn't prepare them for what they found.
"As soon as you opened the door to the apartment, you just smelled gasoline in the house as if you just filled up your car," Officer Chandler said. "At that point, we kind of realized that this one was real, and it could be extremely dangerous."
They knew the man inside had hurt himself in the past and was distressed. They encountered him on the second floor.
"I noticed he was soaking wet," Chandler described. "He had liquid all over him, his hair, jacket and everything."
The cigar and lighter in his hands made the situation even more precarious.
"He just started backing up towards his room and started lighting the lighter itself, and on about the third strike, he went up in flames," Chandler recalled.
The four sprang into action. They sprayed extinguishers and called for backup. The man was severely burned, but alive. As they watched medics take him out on a stretcher, the conversation centered on one topic - in all their years of experience, more than 70 combined, they'd never encountered anything like this.
"Nothing like this, not when they do something like that right in front of you, that was the shock of it," Officer Raina said.
Now, the officers are called heroes for their actions, but that's not how they look at it.
"We just showed up to work that day and ran a call," Raina added. "We did the best we can with what we had," Chandler said.
The officers told us they'd do the same thing tomorrow.
They were all treated for smoke inhalation at the scene. Chandler, Raina, Cornett and Jacob were also given some time off and offered counseling to cope with what happened.
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