On Sunday May 5, 2018 at 7:41 am, Roselle Park Police Department (RPPD) received several calls concerning a vehicle parked on the 100 Block of West Lincoln Avenue.
A concerned caller initially reported a strange noise coming from a vehicle causing a smoke condition. The caller reported the vehicle was possibly occupied. A subsequent 9-1-1 call reported the vehicle was on fire.
Patrolmen Robert Harms, Michael Smith, Jeffery Smith and Avsar Patel responded to the location and the Roselle Park Fire Department were dispatched.
Upon arrival, the vehicle’s engine compartment was engulfed in flames. The vehicle’s passenger side was locked and obscured by dark tinted windows making visibility inside the vehicle impossible.
Patrolman Harms struck and broke a window to see inside the passenger side which was now filled with thick black smoke. Officer Harms was then able to see the silhouette of a head in the driver’s seat of the vehicle. He then opened the driver’s door and – with the assistance of Deputy Chief #2 Steven Thompson – pulled a male occupant from the vehicle who was slumped over the steering wheel and dragging him to safety.
Police Chief Paul W. Morrison stated, “I would like to commend and thank the alert citizen for first reporting the incident before the fire actually began. This is a great example of ‘If you see something, say something.’ Citizens who take an active role in our communities keep us all safe and can actually save lives. Patrolman Robert Harms, Deputy Chief Steven Thompson and the other officers put themselves at great risk of injury to save this man’s life. The heroic efforts of all involved played an instrumental part in the positive outcome of this incident. There could have been a very different and possibly tragic ending to this incident if it had not been for the quick actions of Officer Robert Harms and the heroic act of Harms and Deputy Chief Thompson in risking personal injury to protect the life of another.”
The 42-year-old man with a last known address from Everett, Washington refused to get out, appeared disoriented, and resisted the officer’s efforts to remove him from the burning vehicle. Once outside, the driver was alert and speaking. The male did not suffer any visible serious injuries. He was transported to Trinitas Hospital for further evaluation.
The scene was then turned over to the Union County Arson Squad and the Union County Sheriff’s Crime Scene and Identification Unit for investigation. Preliminary information indicates the driver has been previously observed sleeping inside of the running vehicle for extended hours and may have pressed on the gas pedal for an extended period of time causing the engine to overheat and eventually catch fire.
Sources said that initial reports stated that it appeared that the man tried to commit suicide.
A copy of the video is available below: