Carthage police officer who helped family escape burning building says he's not a hero

Carthage police officer Mike Boley, looks on as Melody Runyon, right, shows him some family photos she found in her burned-out apartment. Her mother, Debbie Johnson, expresses joy in seeing the pictures after Tuesday's fire. (H-W Photo/Steve Bohnstedt)
Posted: Jan. 17, 2013 9:38 pm Updated: Nov. 28, 2014 9:18 pm
Salvaging personal belongings two days after a fire gutted the apartment he shares with his girlfriend, Troy Patch stands in the middle of what was once their bedroom. (H-W Photo/Steve Bohnstedt)

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

CARTHAGE, Ill. -- Mike Boley doesn't feel like a hero.

The Carthage police officer says he was just doing his job -- even though it meant rushing into a burning building early Tuesday morning to help a family escape.

"Every cop I know would have done the same thing," Boley said. "It just so happened I was the one on duty."

A quiet shift spent filling out reports was interrupted shortly after midnight by a call about a fire at 411 Main, three blocks away from the police station, with occupants still inside the house.

Boley, the first to arrive at the scene, spotted smoke coming from the north side of the two-story building and flames at the back.

"I didn't necessarily run into open, burning flames like you would see on the movies, but there were people still in the house," he said. "My main focus was to make sure everyone in the building was aware of the fire, able to get and was getting out."

Heading inside, Boley met the upstairs tenant, Blake Gilbert, carrying out personal items, then he went in the downstairs apartment, where he told the residents -- Troy Patch, Melody Runyon and three sleeping children -- that they needed to get out of the building.

"You could smell the smoke. It was to the point where you could feel it in your eyes," Boley said. "Once I got the point across that your house is on fire, you need to go, we were able to get outside."

Runyon took one child. Patch took another.

"I checked the rest of the rooms downstairs, grabbed the last child off the living room floor and made sure I was the last one out with the last child," Boley said. "It's nothing taught in textbooks or classes. It's just what you do. We're here to protect, serve and save lives. I just acted. I didn't have time to think about it."

The Carthage Clipper Fire Department, dispatched at 12:15 a.m., arrived shortly after Boley carried the child out of the burning building and double-checked with the tenants that everyone, and every pet, was out of the house.

Sixteen volunteer firefighters battled the blaze, remaining on the scene until about 5 a.m.

The building "sustained a lot of fire and water damage on the lower level," Fire Chief Eric Shuman said.

"Upstairs, there was a lot of heat and water damage. It was pretty much a total loss. Everybody lost everything they had," Shuman said, but "we had a good night. Nobody got hurt."

The fire chief didn't find out about what Boley had done until nearly 6 a.m., but he said it's lucky the police officer was there.

"It's always a danger, don't get me wrong, but he was lucky enough. He had the jump on it before it broke through the ceiling. He had the golden five minutes," Shuman said. "If he wouldn't have gone in there then, we might have had some fatalities."

Shuman said the electrical fire started in the back half of the downstairs apartment at the rear of the house, which is owned by Niemann Foods.

"It was not anything any of the homeowners did. It was the wiring in the house," Shuman said of the cause.

Boley, a veteran police officer who just started full-time work with Carthage on Jan. 1 after several years of part-time work, drew on some experience from his past service on the Warsaw Fire Department. Getting everyone out as quickly as possible was key because conditions in structure fires can quickly change.

"Seconds count at that point," he said. "It spreads fast. You don't want to be in a burning building any longer than you have to."

Back to a more routine shift by Thursday night, Boley said he hasn't had much time to "rethink" everything that happened Tuesday morning, but he stressed that public service is just part of his job.

"We're not just here to write tickets and take people to jail. We're truly here to protect people and serve people," Boley said. "You don't do this job for the money. I decided to do it because I realized it was something I was good at, something I could do to make a difference."

He's just glad making a difference helped save a family.

"I'm glad to see nobody got hurt, no firemen got hurt. The only thing hurt was property," he said. "Luckily we don't have that many house fires. Hopefully I won't have to go through that experience again for some time, in theory hopefully never, but if I had to, I hope the outcome is the same. No injuries."


Carthage Police Chief Gary Waddell said special recognition is in the works for Mike Boley.

"Officer Boley is a pretty humble fellow. He doesn't feel like he's done anything outstanding," Waddell said. "The fire chief, myself and the mayor all feel that he did."

Discussions are under way on how best to recognize Boley, who rushed into a burning building and helped a family escape Tuesday morning.

"It's not every day we have a lot of fires, not every day a police officer has an opportunity to go into a home and rescue somebody," Waddell said. "We feel Officer Boley definitely went above and beyond in assisting this family to safety."

Boley arrived at just the right time — what Fire Chief Eric Shuman called the "golden five minutes" — to get into the burning building to offer help.

In most cases, though, Shuman stresses calling for help instead of attempting a rescue.

"Hopefully they've already dialed 911. We should be on our way. Stay out of harm's way until we can get there," he said. "A lot of times if the person's that going in might not know the house, it may have been empty to begin with. If he goes down in there, we might be looking for somebody else."


Some information for this story was provided by Herald-Whig Staff Writer Nancy Terwelp.




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