Rochester, MN (KROC-AM News) - A Rochester Police Officer has been recognized for his actions that potentially saved lives, and certainly prevented significant smoke and fire damage within a residence.

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The Rochester Fire Department responded to a “fire reported out” at an apartment complex in Southeast Rochester in late February. Crews discovered that a cooking fire had been extinguished by the occupant in the apartment using a few pots of water.

The apartment was quite smokey when crews arrived so they spent time at the scene ventilating the unit and checking for a possible fire extension. The investigation showed that a fairly significant fire had occurred in the kitchen area after a burner was accidentally left on the stovetop igniting food within a pan. The fire burned parts of the cabinets, charred the entirety of the kitchen ceiling, and was hot enough to melt and break a light fixture.

Photo from Rochester Fire Department
Photo from Rochester Fire Department
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The occupant of the apartment was awakened to the fire after her smoke detectors sounded. She came out of her bedroom to find heavy smoke and a fire in the kitchen.

Roughly 11 hours earlier, Rocher Police responded to a call at the same apartment for an unrelated call and noticed that the smoke detectors did not appear to be working and were chirping. RPD’s Ben Schlag called RFD to respond in order to check the detectors’ batteries and functionality.

Office Ben Schlag - Photo from Rochester Police Department
Office Ben Schlag - Photo from Rochester Police Department
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RFD found that the existing smoke detectors were not working due to a wiring issue. Officer Schlag took it upon himself to track down the building manager to advise him that he needed to fix the issues as soon as possible.

The RFD crew on the scene added two battery-powered detectors as a temporary solution to offer smoke detection to the family of four living at the apartment.

Without Officer Schlag’s attentiveness, care, and vigilance, RFD crews and investigators believe that the fire would have turned into a more significant fire that would have trapped the family in the apartment and left them unable to escape harm due to the location. Additionally, because the fire was in a multi-family building, it is possible other families would have been affected.

“Smoke detectors do save lives if they are properly maintained and working. We thank all Rochester Police Officers for all they do on a daily basis to keep our firefighters and community safe,” RFD Chief Erik Kerska said. “Being safety-minded at all times really made the difference in this case. Early recognition and fire prevention is a top goal within our department, and thankfully we have partner agencies like Rochester Police in the community helping us meet that goal.”

Photo from Rochester Fire Department
Photo from Rochester Fire Department
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“This story illustrates how much every contact counts – something we remind our officers of each shift," Rochester Police Chief Jim Franklin said. "It also shows the impact partnership can have on public safety. We are grateful to work alongside such a dedicated team of firefighters.”

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