AKRON, OH- A rookie Akron, Ohio police officer is being hailed as a hero for rescuing a disabled 91-year-old woman from her burning home last month, News 5 Cleveland reports.
Officer Aaron Williams was on duty on November 25 after serving on the job for only three months when he was dispatched to a house fire in West Akron at around 3:15 a.m.
On arrival, Williams was informed by neighbors that there were two residents inside the home—91-year-old bedridden resident Lorene Sampson, and her 70-year-old son Willie O’Neal.
“I’m running up full sprint and I’m hearing all this, and at the same time, I’m like there’s somebody in there. The least I can do is try to kick this door in,” Williams recalled.
Williams said he immediately recognized that Ms. Sampson was on a bed, however due to the thick smoke, he was unable to see her. He did however hear the sound of her voice, which gave him the motivation to press on with attempting to rescue her.
“I kicked in the door and I’m yelling, ‘Is anybody in the house?’ And I hear, ‘I’m right here, babe,’” Williams recalled. “At that time, I didn’t know she couldn’t walk.”
Williams, as a police officer, of course did not have the protective gear available that is provided firefighters, including an air pack. He said he went in and out of the house two to three times, and recalls coughing and crawling until he was able to reach Ms. Sampson.
Shortly afterward, two paramedics, also without protective gear, appeared in the house to assist Williams, and the three were able to collaborate to get her out of the house.
“They ended up grabbing her and we all like kind of pulled each other like, ‘Go, go, go, go, go’ to run out of the house,” the officer recalled.
After getting Sampson to safety, arriving Akron firefighters were able to rescue O’Neal from an upstairs bedroom.
The actions taken by Williams should probably come as no surprise. While he was attending the Akron police academy back in March, he told News 5 in Cleveland that he had always felt a need to help people, which led him to become a police officer.
“Even from a young age, my mom always told me I had a protective nature about me, and I didn’t really realize that until I got older that I always protect people,” Williams said at the time.
Williams was among 20 cadets attending that academy class, which consisted of 25 weeks of training.
The road to the police academy wasn’t an easy one for the rookie officer. To achieve his dream of becoming a police officer, Williams initially lost 65 pounds, where he had started at 360 pounds, he told the outlet at the time.
He initially failed the physical fitness test in September 2021, being unable to complete a sufficient number of sit-ups in the required time frame.
It was then that Lt. Michael Miller, who was watching the fitness test noticed Williams’ dejected look and pulled him aside to offer advice. He noticed that Williams didn’t appear to be taking breaths during the exercise.
“I told him that I thought he failed in part, because I don’t believe he took a single breath during his sit-ups,” Miller recalled.
“I was holding my breath the whole time and didn’t realize it,” Williams added at the time.
Holding the lieutenant’s advice close, he retook the physical fitness test two weeks later and passed. That led to a bond between the two which motivated not only Williams but also Lt. Miller, who decided to focus on his own fitness.
“He has no idea what he did for me personally,” Miller said.
He began to exercise more and himself lost 70 pounds. Each credited the other for inspiring the other.
“My doctor didn’t say to this or else, but he very easily could have and probably should have. I believe, from where I was, he (Williams) may have literally saved my life,” Miller said.
That interaction between Lt. Miller and Williams led to him being where he was when he was able to save Ms. Sampson. Sometimes it is the small and seemingly insignificant that can change lives, which it seemed to in this case.
After the incident, Sampson was transported to Cleveland Clinic Akron General hospital, while O’Neal was transported to the burn unit at Akron Children’s Hospital. Both were still currently hospitalized as of this week; however both are expected to make full recoveries, according to Stephanie Muhammad, Sampson’s daughter and O’Neal’s sister.
Muhammad credited the actions of Williams and the other first responders who responded to the fire as being “heroic.”
“This young man, Aaron Williams, is a hero. He’s a hero because he didn’t have to do that. He could have waited for the fire department, but he didn’t,” Muhammad said.
Muhammad, who lives in Phoenix, Arizona said she had a short but emotional with Williams via video chat last week.
“God sent you to my family and I take it personally. He sent you to me. You saved my mother,” Muhammad said.
Meanwhile Williams remains humble about the incident and doesn’t consider himself a hero. He admitted that when he returned to the scene and talked about what happened on the night of the fire, it brought back some of the same emotions he felt on the night of the fire.
“We’re always here to help people. I don’t think it’s necessarily heroic,” he said. “If there’s somebody that can be saved, you at least gotta try.”
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