As a retired policeman, I often ponder about certain calls and the people who are stuck in my mind, wondering where they are today and how they are doing. It is like that for first responders whose duty is to save lives and go to the next call, not having adequate time for quiet repose and reminiscence.
Law enforcement officers unwittingly impress upon people the magnitude of heroic deeds performed on their behalf; it is the nature of The Job.
As humans, our recollections are a dynamic that may trail off without knowing the full scope of a person’s destiny and how we may have helped shape their life-course trajectory.
This is especially true for law enforcement officers and children saved from horrific destruction.
How do first responders know how inspiring they were to youngsters many years ago?
Those formerly young kids may harbor a glimmer of becoming a hero just like the cops who saved them.
They may grow up to become cops and, sometimes via a twist of fate, say…a police cohort whose mind is keen enough to connect the dots, reunifications are melded together, over a quarter-century later.
Over a quarter-century earlier, two NYPD cops were conducting a surveillance operation (a string of check-cashing robberies) when they noticed a young mom’s car was leaking gasoline from the undercarriage. They alerted the driver of the car in question to inform the woman, whose children were in the back seats.
The breached fuel tank suddenly ignited and engulfed the vehicle. Can you envision being a toddler in a car with flames licking at your car doors and smoke clouding the entire environment? Unimaginable!
Except for two cops appearing outside, in the hazardous haze that would require hospitalization due to smoke inhalation, exemplifying their oath.
All In a Day’s Work
The duo of cops busted windows and plucked everyone out of the fiery auto, saving the young mother and her two children. How incredibly selfless, despite the perils they confronted and stared down until everyone was safe.
From the archives came the newspaper article that reported on the inferno and the life-saving venture, in which Ocasio said, “It’s when we sat down at the hospital [due to smoke inhalation] that it really hit us. That car could have exploded. It gave us the chills.”
Can you imagine the throat lumps when one of the survivors, age 2 at the time of the incident, reunites with the courageous cops who ensured she would have continued life…sharing hugs and tears over a quarter century later?
Here is what it looked like:
Per the NYPD, “In 1996 when then Police Officers Eric Ocasio & Charles Claudio rescued a two-year-old girl from a burning car, they never imagined that she would grow up to be a Police Officer, inspired by their actions.”
In case you didn’t catch it near the end of that brief footage, NYPD police Commissioner Edward Caban graced Police Officer Dennise Gomez with a historical badge upon which the number 15417 is legendary.
That five-digit number belonged to Detective Ocasio when he was a cop, well before he retired a decade ago. I imagine he has a shield bearing that number in his shadow box at home. Officer Gomez, too, will partake in that lore of law enforcement legacies.
As these two now-retired police saviors recount the story about saving a two-year-old little girl who eventually became a cop with the NYPD, notice how Officer Gomez not only embraced her two heroes but more than once asked retired Detective Ocasio, “Are you okay?” as he wept with joy upon seeing her grown up, in NYPD blues.
Her approach, embracing him in front of an audience ripe with applause, his psyche likely replaying the day a family was almost lost in a car ablaze in the middle of East Harlem.
At the reunification ceremony, Officer Gomez asked an emotion-flooded and tearful Detective Ocasio if he was okay (a few times). I envision him as a young beat cop, placing himself in harm’s way to save little Dennise, not only asking her if she was okay but assuring her that everything would be okay…as he carried her away from the engulfed auto.
As retired Detective Charles Claudio, Det. Ocasio’s partner at the time of the rescue, went on to say: “I would never think in the world that…we would hear from these kids ever again.” That talks to the dimension of law enforcement officers going from call to call, meeting plenty of people, not necessarily having the proper time to delve deeper. Cops just forge forward; it is the nature of the public safety profession.
And that sentiment circles back to our opening commentary up top: cops come across tons of people throughout their careers as first responders, knowing there is an infinite realm of lives being impacted, for which public safety professionals can play an instrumental role in ensuring longevity.
Officer Gomez showing up in dress blues at One Police Plaza, during Christmastime and its wonders, once again seeing the rescuers who ensured her continued existence, enabled a shared gift with two policemen who catalyzed her law enforcement career.
Now, she is a beat cop in the 90th Precinct’s scope of jurisdiction, where I grew up and adored NYPD police officers, aspiring to be one. That feeling never wavered…the same notion Ms. Gomez harbored until she pinned an NYPD shield, a far cry from feeling trapped in a burning vehicle.
Here is a snippet from an essay written by Officer Gomez as part of her NYPD personnel jacket:
In closing, we also extend kudos to the good Samaritan who helped the two NYPD cops save an entire family, especially a child who herself would become a savior to many, paying it forward in kind.
As NYPD police Commissioner Caban crystalized, “When we say that police officers make a real difference, it’s clearly not just words. And for Officers Ocasio and Claudio, that difference is Dennise Gomez. Her life is their legacy. And now, their work is her work,” adding, “And today, their strong bond is getting even stronger.”