The flames were racing up toward 89-year-old Dorothy Hall's second-floor apartment when Officers Tom Beasley and Russell Peterson pulled up in their squad car.
Peterson, then Beasley raced up the stairs to the apartment, flames flicking up about them. Suddenly, a window shattered and fire poured into the apartment.
Scooping up the frail woman, Beasley burst through a sheet of flames shrouding the doorway, carrying Hall to safety. Peterson, trapped by the fire, retreated through the noxious haze to a back bedroom and lowered himself through a window to the ground.
For their actions in the January, 1984, incident, Beasley and Peterson have been named recipients of the Long Beach Police Department's Meritorious Class A Award, the city's highest law enforcement honor.
Dog Also to Be Cited
The pair will be presented their awards during the 17th Annual Police Awards Luncheon, which is set for noon Tuesday at the Hyatt Regency in Long Beach. In addition, six other officers--and one police dog--will receive awards and 29 area residents will be presented certificates.
A six-person committee of police employees selected the recipients from among 16 officers and 150 civilians nominated for the awards, which honor acts of valor during the one-year period after October, 1983.
For Beasley and Peterson, the rescue of Hall easily might never have happened. When the officers first noticed the smoke, they thought it was from a fire in a different section of the city.
Deciding to investigate anyway, they came upon the blaze at the apartment building. An arsonist had set fire to an adjacent garage, and the flames were spreading up a tree to the structure.
After soaking himself with a garden hose, Peterson, 29, went in first. Beasley, 26, waited outside. And waited.
"I figured he had enough time to get her and get out," Beasley recalled. "When he didn't come out, I went in."
Beasley ran up the stairs and found Peterson trying to fashion a rope out of sheets to lower Hall from a back window.
Then the flames exploded through a window. The apartment filled with smoke and fire. Beasley knew they had little time. Grabbing Hall in his arms, he dashed through the flaming doorway, hitting the apartment's screen door and popping it open as he ran down an exterior landing.
The fire had spread to the stairway, so Beasley led Hall and another resident along the second-floor landing, trying to escape the flames. With no way down, they huddled in a corner of the landing as the fire came closer.
Other officers arrived and began searching for a ladder. To ward off the flames, a neighbor, standing on the ground below, sprayed the trio with water from a garden hose.
Peterson, meanwhile, had escaped into the back alley. He was worried about his partner. "I remember standing in that alley and thinking I just lost my partner," Peterson said.
When firefighters had nearly extinguished the blaze, Peterson ran around to the front of the house to discover Beasley still on the second-floor landing.
"I just ran over and ran up the ladder and we gave each other a big hug," Peterson said. "It was really a great relief."
Among the others receiving awards is a four-legged member of the Long Beach Police Department.
Officer Michael Kinrade and his police dog, a Danish-bred rottweiler named Argo, are getting Class B awards for their pursuit of a man who robbed a newspaper vendor. He was tracked and caught while hiding under a house.
"I sent Argo under the house and he starts barking at this cement wall," Kinrade said, describing the July, 1984, incident. "I shined a flashlight under there, and it looked like a solid piece of cement."
Kinrade called the 6-year-old dog back several times, but Argo persisted, returning to the wall and barking.
"I just knew I had to go under because he was telling me someone was there," Kinrade said.
Kicked in Head
After shimmying under the house, Kinrade discovered that the thief had crawled through a hole in the wall and sealed it with cinder blocks.
During the tussle that ensued in the crawl space, the thief kicked Argo in the head several times before the 104-pound dog bit the man. Kinrade joined the struggle and later got the man out with the help of another officer.
"Argo's a very intimidating dog," said Kinrade, who acquired the animal three years ago from the Danish State Police. "When we got that guy out, we saw what the dog had done. It looked like someone had taken a pair of scissors and cut two-inch-wide strips up and down his pants."
Two other officers also are to receive Class B awards. Officers Gerald Walls, 35, and Craig Remine, 28, captured a mental patient who was strolling through a neighborhood firing potshots from a rifle at houses early one morning in December, 1983.
Among the civilians being honored is Joayne Andrews. Last August, Andrews attempted to foil a street robbery by using her car to block the escape route of two thieves who took an elderly woman's purse, then jumped into their truck.
Thieves Pull Over
After banging into Andrews' car several times, the two men got away. Andrews, 36, chased them. After about a mile, the thieves stopped.
"One of them got out and handed me the purse," Andrews recalled. "He just said, 'Hey lady, here's the purse back. Will you just leave us alone?' "
Police tracked the pair down through the truck's license number, which Andrews supplied, and arrested them about 45 minutes later.
Andrews said she risked trying to stop the thieves because the sight of them robbing the woman made her mad.
"It made me angry to see some young man throw an old woman into the bushes," she said. "I saw a lot of people stand there and look the other way, but it was personally offensive to me."