North Battleford RCMP officers recall dramatic and dangerous rescue of residents trapped in apartment building fire

North Battleford, Saskatchewan – During the frigid early morning hours of January 3, 2022, North Battleford RCMP Cst. Heather Healey was dispatched to a fire, thinking she’d just help, as police usually do, with scene control. But as she approached a fiery three-storey apartment building, she realized how critical the situation was – and quickly sprung into action.

“I showed up first at the fire and it was just absolute chaos,” Cst. Healey says. “I pulled right up in front of the doors and you could see the black smoke just racing out.”

Aftermath of the three-storey apartment building fire
North Battleford RCMP – Aftermath of the three-storey apartment building fire

Immediately, she spotted a woman who had fallen to the ground while attempting to escape one of upper floors, and ensured she was okay. But she was just one of many that needed help, including people still trapped in the building. It was the most chaotic scene she’s ever witnessed, she says. “I went on the radio and said, we need more people over here, now!” Other officers began rushing to the scene.

Trapped residents – including child — jump into the arms of rescuers below

“The fire was just burning so much. It was just blazing. I was like, I need to get more people’s attention and get them out of the building,” she says. “It was 1, 1:30 in the morning. People are usually sleeping so I took out my baton and just started smashing windows, like any window I could reach, and yelled through them, just telling people to get out of the building.”

Cst. Joshua Trefry arrived and saw that the building’s two entranceways were now filled with smoke and flame – making escape through them impossible. Knowing they were trapped and in desperate need of fresh air, residents were forced onto their balconies.

“My co-worker basically grabbed a group of seven or eight police officers and civilians and said, if these guys have to jump, we have to catch them,” Cst. Trefry explains. “So everyone locked arms and made a web, if you want to call it that, and one by one they jumped down and they caught them from the third floor.”

A young child was the first the group caught.

Climbing into danger to help others escape

Not everyone was able to jump to safety, so one RCMP officer climbed a ladder and entered the smoke-filled units, with his worried co-workers, including Cst. Trefry, holding the ladder below. The smoke was so heavy they couldn’t see the third floor from the ground, Cst. Trefry says. “The flames were literally shooting out of the first floor, right in front of where we had the ladder. It was super hot, so we switched out, we took turns.”

They were able to help a person with mobility issues and two pregnant women escape safely.

The fire was intense and heavily damaged the building, yet after careful investigation it was determined everyone made it out alive. Seventeen residents – and six emergency responders including RCMP officers – were taken to hospital and later released.

During the fire and its aftermath, many local residents and organizations came together to assist, including the City of North Battleford, local fire departments, community safety officers, WPD Ambulance, SaskPower, SaskEnergy, the Salvation Army and the Canadian Red Cross. The North Battleford Fire Department and the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency worked quickly and diligently to investigate alongside the North Battleford RCMP’s General Investigation Section (GIS), who charged two individuals in relation to the fire just three days later.

A mom’s tears, a grateful husband cause officers to reflect

The responding RCMP officers have now been able to breathe a sigh of relief and reflect on the events of that night.

When an exhausted Cst. Healey got home from the fire, she called her mom and told her about their efforts. “She started crying and she was like, I just can’t believe this is what you are doing,” she says. “It does hit them sometime, they can’t really believe some of the things that we do, that we deal with.”

For Cst. Trefry, a chance encounter at a local store was an emotional reminder of the impact they’d made that night. The husband of a pregnant women they rescued came up and thanked him, and said he didn’t think she would have escaped without them. “That hit me harder than anything had up to that point,” he says. “I didn’t cry, I didn’t shed a tear, but I felt pretty emotional, like I walked around the store almost in tears just thinking about it – because it’s his wife, it’s her life.”

Their bravery has not gone unnoticed by their Saskatchewan RCMP coworkers, either. “Members go into situations and as the old adage goes, they’re running into the chaos when everyone else is running out,” says North Battleford GIS Sgt. Adam Buckingham. “I think their life-saving efforts can’t be understated.”

“They proved what we pledge in this organization, which is to protect the public – and they did that at their own risk,” adds Supt. Honey Dwyer, Commander of the Saskatchewan RCMP’s Central District, where North Battleford is located. “They set their personal safety aside to ensure the safety of others – and we thank them for that.”

North Battleford RCMP

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