The 911 calls just kept coming in. An apartment in Lenexa was engulfed in flames.
Maria Moreno, a dispatcher for the Johnson County Emergency Communications Center, was fresh out of training. She had already fielded multiple calls that day in April 2017 when the woman called. She was trapped inside a second-story apartment unit with two small children she was looking after.
“My main concern was just to keep her calm and reassure her that help was on the way and that my firefighters were doing everything they could to gain access to her,” Moreno said. “It was all kind of a spur-of-the-moment thing. I was shocked myself. But I knew I had to remain calm for her.”
Meanwhile, the Lenexa Fire Department and mutual aid first responders raced to the apartment at 85th Street and Pflumm Road. As they were pulling up, they saw the whole building was engulfed. They saw the family banging on the windows and Moreno, the dispatcher, had told them exactly where they were trapped.
Lenexa Fire Captain Dustin Moore and Firefighter Paramedic Andrew Freisner climbed the ladder, grabbed the children — a 2- or 3-year-old toddler and an 18-month-old — and helped them down the ladder.
Once they climbed the ladder, there was near-zero visibility but, luckily, no direct fire yet. Moore and Freisner entered from the balcony and then forced entry into the bedroom. The kids were lethargic from the smoke and heat. Their aunt could still walk, so she waited until they came back for her and her pets.
“It was a situation where we knew what to do and it sounds kinda counterintuitive, but the less you think about stuff in that situation, the better you are,” Freisner said. “You really want to work off instinct.”
The family went to the hospital for emergency care, but they turned out fine. Moore estimated the chain of events that afternoon occurred in about 12 minutes.
“At the time, it hit me so quick I don’t know that it really hit me what had just happened,” Moore said.
A collaboration of first responders
Moore and Freisner got the assignment to rescue, but the two heavily credit the collaboration of their fire department and mutual aid first responders — the Overland Park and Shawnee fire departments, Johnson County Med-Act and Lenexa Police Department — for the successful rescue. They kept the flames at bay during the rescue and ensured the family had what they needed once they got out.
Kyle Segraves, Kevin Sellers and Danny Clark with the Lenexa Fire Department also gave support on the ladder. Segraves and rescued the black labrador dog after the family was rescued.
“This specific incident had a culmination of all of those agencies working together, and working together really well, and that’s when you get positive outcomes,” said Lynn Wedel, Lenexa fire battalion chief, adding that he was “tremendously” proud of his firefighters.
Last week, Moore and Freisner received the Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor, the highest national award for valor presented to a public safety officer. President Donald Trump presented them with the medal during a White House ceremony on May 22.
The Medal of Valor is awarded to public safety officers who have exhibited exceptional courage, regardless of personal safety, in the attempt to save or protect others from harm.
“It’s one of my proudest moments, but I think what it represents is more important,” Freisner said. “It was a countywide effort. I actually felt pretty bad having just us two there seeing the effort. Everybody worked together; it really represents how well we do work with each other.”
Moreno stayed on the call with the woman until Lenexa firefighters reached her and the kids. Helping them made her feel accomplished.
“They’re more than likely having the worst day of their life when they’re calling 911,” Moreno said. “They know that you’re there to help them and at the end of the day, that’s what matters to me, is that I’m able to help somebody.”