When Detective Phil Hemmeler of the Palatine Police Department heard the radio call of a car that crashed into a building and caught fire, he jumped in to help, ultimately saving the driver’s life. “The smoke was really starting to fill up in the car and I was trying to hold my breath, trying to give him voice commands like, ‘hey, I want to get you out, it’s on fire’ and he wasn’t responding,” he told the Red Cross.
The fire had surrounded the driver and Detective Hemmeler could see the driver’s feet burning. The flames were also spreading to the visor above the victim’s head, burning his shoulders and head. He recalls thinking he needed to figure out a different way to get the injured driver out of the car. That is when he and other officers that had just arrived at the scene decided to use a tow strap procured by a manager of a near business.
Detective Hemmeler, with assistance from others at the scene, secured the tow strap to his squad car, a Chevy Tahoe, and to the vehicle on fire. After three attempts, he was able to pull the vehicle out. Now able to open the driver’s side door, Detective Hemmeler tried to get the man out of the car but was met with resistance. “I couldn’t get around him, I couldn’t get in the car far enough to get the leverage to pull him out,” he explained. He remembers trying to put the fire out as much as he could from around the man’s face and head and using fire extinguishers until the fire department arrived on the scene. Firefighters were then able to pull the man out of the car with the help of special equipment.
In his nearly 14 years with the Palatine Police Department, Detective Hemmeler had never experienced a situation like the one he faced on June 7, 2019. Today, Detective Hemmeler is receiving the 2020 Red Cross Law Enforcement Hero award, sponsored by Motorola Solutions Foundation.
Later that day, back at the police station, Detective Hemmeler got in touch with the man’s family. A few days later, while visiting the victim in the hospital, Phil had the opportunity to meet the man’s son who shared how grateful he was that his dad had made it alive.
Since COVID-19, Detective Hemmeler’s entire routine has changed. With extra health precautions in place, he continues to serve his community. “The public is providing tremendous support…and the Village of Palatine has gone above and beyond—dropping off gloves and masks…to keep everyone as safe as possible,” he told the Red Cross.
Detective Hemmeler was to receive his award at the Red Cross of Illinois’ annual Heroes Breakfast, which was cancelled because of coronavirus. We hope you are inspired by his story, and consider donating to the Red Cross at www.redcross.org/ChicagoHero. Right now, the impact of your gift will be doubled by a generous match.
Better is honored to be a sponsor of the Heroes Breakfast and to collaborate with the Red Cross to share the inspiring stories of all the 2020 Heroes too.