On a Saturday afternoon late last spring, David Grogan, a patrol lieutenant with Deptford Township Police Department, was talking with some colleagues in the department’s parking lot when a call came through. There was a house fire at the Inverness Apartments complex.
A little more than an hour later, Grogan arrived at Inspira Health Center in Mullica Hill to be treated for smoke inhalation.
“Were you at a barbecue or something?” a nurse asked Grogan upon arrival, since his uniform smelled like he’d been hanging out at a bonfire.
“Yeah,” Grogan quipped. “It was almost us.”
In between the call and his six-hour stay at the hospital, Grogan led a heroic, lifesaving rescue of two elderly residents at Inverness. A Deptford native in his 14th year with the police, Grogan entered the burning building three times, tracking down and bringing the woman out of the building and then helping guide Deptford Fire Department Battalion Two Captain Ed Bell to her husband, who was also safely taken out.
For his efforts, Grogan was recognized with a national award last month.
The National Law Enforcement Memorial and Museum in Washington named him the August 2020 Officer of the Month.
“It’s pretty cool,” said Grogan, who received a certificate and will eventually be invited to the museum in Washington for an award ceremony.
“It feels good,” he added. “But I would have done it without the recognition, too.”
“Lt. Grogan showed a high level of bravery by entering a burning building to rescue two residents,” Deptford Township Chief of Police Frank Newkirk said. “Those residents might not have survived if not for Lt. Grogan’s bravery.”
Although the lifesaving effort was four months ago, Grogan remembered it in vivid detail when asked earlier this week to recount the fire. When he arrived with fellow officer Todd Brown, the apartment building was engulfed in flames and a call no one wanted to hear came as the squad car found a parking spot: An elderly couple was trapped inside.
A minute later, another officer, Tom Warrington, arrived at the scene.
“I waved him up,” Grogan recalled. “I could see the balcony was close, so I told him where to park and then I climbed up on the hood of his car and was able to do sort of a pull-up to pull myself onto the balcony. And then luckily, the balcony door was unlocked. And when I opened it, all of the smoke started rushing out.”
Grogan couldn’t see through the smoke. He couldn’t see his hands in front of him let alone the people inside.
“Is anyone in here?!” Grogan hollered as he used his hands to see his way through the room.
“Yeah!” a woman replied. “I’m stuck and I can’t get out!”
Grogan got on his hands and knees and began crawling. He focused on a white object ahead, thinking it was bed sheets and that the woman was in the bed. But when his hands finally reached the object, he realized it was mail atop a kitchen table.
“I can’t find you!” Groan yelled, asking the woman to yell back so he could attempt to follow her voice in order to get to her.
Grogan wasn’t wearing a helmet or any other kind of fire rescue equipment. He knew his time inside the building was limited.
“I only had another minute or two before I had to get out of there,” he said. “I kept sweeping my hand across in front of me and then I remember feeling her. I grabbed her arm and said, ‘Come on, we’re going.’ I grabbed her by the arm and started dragging her and she said, ‘Hey you’re being a little rough.’ I said, ‘Well, I’m sorry, but we have to get out of here!’”
When Grogan and the woman found fresh air back on the balcony, they patiently waited for the fire department to arrive. But he knew the ordeal wasn’t quite over.
“It was definitely scary,” Grogan said. “The balcony was only a couple feet wide and the flames were coming out the door. It’s a wood balcony. We’re standing there and the siding is melting off the building.”
Meanwhile the woman had told him her husband was still trapped inside. Grogan reentered the apartment twice, attempting to find the man but knowing his time was dwindling. Thankfully, the fire department had arrived and was better equipped to enter the burning building to complete the rescue.
“(The whole rescue) seemed like forever, but it was probably only a couple of minutes,” Grogan acknowledged. “But the adrenaline was definitely running.”
The elderly couple were treated and released from Cooper Hospital. Grogan returned to work the next day and used an inhaler for a couple of weeks until his breathing normalized after smoke inhalation.
“When I hear stories of bravery like that of Lt. Grogran, I know why we have an Officer of the Month Award,” said National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund CEO Marcia Ferranto. “The men and women who serve in law enforcement go to work each day ready to help keep the rest of us safe, no matter what dangers they may face during their day.
“Their bravery, like that of Lt. Grogan, makes me proud that we are able to honor their service in some small way.”