UPDATE: Fire victim’s daughter praises ‘hero’ police officers

Woman was still alive when trio pulled her from burning apartment

By Emily Gillespie, Columbian Breaking News Reporter



Vancouver police Officers Dennis Devlin, Tom Topaum and Brian Viles responded first to the 911 call: an apartment fire reported at 1:23 a.m. Sunday at 2904 E. 16th St.

Vancouver Police spokeswoman Kim Kapp provided this detailed account of the scene:

After learning that there was a person possibly trapped inside, the officers knocked down the apartment door. The residence was full of thick smoke and they could see the flames.

Devlin got a fire extinguisher from his vehicle and sprayed the flames so they could have better access. He and Topaum then got on their hands and knees and tried to find the person trapped inside: 66-year-old Karen Kimberling.

Viles got a gas mask from his patrol vehicle and entered the residence. With the help of Topaum, Viles pulled Kimberling out, just as the fire erupted and consumed the entire apartment.

She was alive. Firefighters and medical personnel soon arrived and took Kimberling to Legacy Emanuel Medical Center in Portland.

Although Kimberling died later that day, her daughter Dede Kimberling was grateful for the officers’ response — especially because they were not wearing any gear to protect them from fire.

“That’s a hero,” she said. “That’s above and beyond the call of duty. They’ve got their families, but they put their lives on the lines every night for everybody else’s family.”

Sunday was made especially difficult for Dede Kimberling, 45, of Felida because it was Mother’s Day.

Although she had a falling-out with her mother and they hadn’t spoken for 11 years, Kimberling said she loved her and thought of her every year on the holiday.

“I just wish our relationship was better, that I could have known her,” she said. “I really wish I could have just called her and said, ‘I love you, happy Mother’s Day.’ “

She described her mother as artistic, fond of drawing, painting and cake decorating.

Although still grieving, Kimberling said she felt a little better knowing the police officers and firefighters worked so hard to try to save her mother’s life.

“I have a great respect for them,” she said. “I really want to thank (the police officers) very much for pulling her out of there, from the bottom of my heart.”

Emily Gillespie: http://twitter.com/col_cops; emily.gillespie@columbian.com.

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