Sgt. Richard Popowich with Thunder Bay Police Service, said he was a little bit in shock when he heard he and four fellow officers received official commendations of great merit from the Governor General of Canada.
“I’m very, very proud to be a police officer, proud of the work that we do as a service to the community, so it’s very gratifying,” said Popowich, an 18-year member of the Thunder Bay Police Service.
The commendation comes following an incident in February 2018 when Popowich, along with Sgt. Dan Irwin, Cst. Matt Sombrutski, Cst. Ryan Krupa, and Cst. Chris Kampela, risked their own safety to evacuate people from a residence contaminated by carbon monoxide gas.
The officers were dispatched to the 600 block of McTavish Street on Feb. 11, 2018, in response to a call about unconscious people inside a home.
“I’m thinking is it possibly drug related? Is it a gas leak?” said Popowich, “You’re thinking about the steps you’re taking there, trying to plan, who’s there, EMS already on scene, fire dispatched.”
As the first officer to arrive, Popowich said he needed to assess the scene and entered the residence even as paramedics said it was unsafe to go into the house. He found three unconscious people and another who was conscious but distressed. Popowich said when the other officers arrived they all went in to help remove the people.
“The decision is made we have to clear the house as quickly and safely as possible and that’s what we do,” said Popowich, as firefighters began to arrive on scene. “At this time we hear the (firefighters) have their CO (carbon monoxide) detectors and we understand there’s a very high level reading of CO, but in saying that we still have to carry on and do our job and save those inside.”
At that point, Popowich said, the thought that the officers were breathing in the poisoned air did cross his mind, “but you’re so caught up in the moment of what you’re doing, it kind of takes a back step in your mind.”
It was after everyone was out of the house and the situation was contained that Popowich said he and the other officers began to feel the effects of the carbon monoxide.
“We did sort of start to feel a little bit light-headed, a little nauseous, headaches,” said Popowich.
The officers were treated at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre where three people from the house also received treatment and a man who was found with no vital signs in the house was pronounced deceased.
Hospital staff told officers that had the victims’ exposure to the carbon monoxide been any longer, even just several minutes longer, they would have likely died from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Popowich said receiving a commendation from the Governor General gives him the opportunity to reflect on his career as a police officer.
“It’s a proud moment and I do think about the work we do,” said Popowich. “It’s just a gratifying bonus that we receive these (recognitions) now and again for the work that we do.”