Officers praised for saving woman from Muskegon Heights house fire

Muskegon County

MUSKEGON HEIGHTS, Mich. (WOOD) — Two first responders in Muskegon Heights are being hailed as heroes for saving an elderly woman’s life after her home was set on fire. 

Police say the fire broke out at the home at the corner of Barney Avenue and Eighth Street on Saturday night. Witnesses say a group of boys fired a flare gun into the home’s living room. Tarlee Brooks, 88, was on the couch. Fire crews say the flare set her drapes on fire.

“We were only about a block away when we received the call,” Muskegon Heights Police Officer Jimmie Fox said during a Monday morning press conference.

muskegon heights barney avenue house fire
A home in Muskegon Heights that authorities believe was intentionally set on fire while the homeowner was inside. (Feb. 23, 2020)

He and Officer Michael Lewis were the first on scene.

“We can hear just a faint voice saying, ‘Help.’ We walked to the front door. Officer Lewis opened the front door and when we opened it, it was so smoky! You couldn’t see anything,” Fox recounted.

The officers say they suddenly saw the homeowner’s hand reaching out. They pulled her to safety.

Brooks was taken to the hospital, where she was treated for smoke inhalation. She was later discharged and is now staying with family

“It’s fortunate that this didn’t end in a tragedy,” Lewis said. “I feel like we were just doing our job. It’s nothing that another officer from Muskegon Heights wouldn’t do if they were in our same situation.”

The fire department arrived as the officers were pulling Brooks out. They were able to contain the flames and locate the family’s cat, which needed to be revived.

Though it was just a few moments’ difference between the officers’ arrival and firefighters getting there, authorities say Fox and Lewis likely saved the woman’s life. 

“The smoke was banked down to the floor so if it wouldn’t have been for Officers Lewis and Fox pulling her out when they did, her condition would have been much worse,” Lt. Bill Mastenbrook with the Muskegon Heights Fire Department said.

Police now have a 13-year-old boy in custody and he faces charges of arson. His name isn’t being released.

“It’s amazing: You can ruin your whole life in 30 seconds and this young man did that,” Muskegon Heights Police Chief Joseph Thomas said. “It doesn’t matter if people on Facebook call it an accident. An accident of this magnitude, you get the same charge as if you intentionally set the house on fire.”

Police say the 13-year-old did not act alone. There is no word on whether they have plans to charge the others they believe were involved. 

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