Uniformed Broward County deputy sheriffs may have taken cover behind their patrol cars instead of entering Stoneman Douglas High School during the Valentine’s Day shooting that took 17 lives, but that’s not how first-responder Jay Schwartz rolls.
The Polk County, Florida, fire-rescue captain was one of the first on-scene at an April 4 house fire in the city of Lakeland. He wasn’t on-duty, but that didn’t stop him from trying to save lives and property.
That’s why he’s in trouble now – trouble, as in, no good deed goes unpunished.
Schwartz, who was captured on video footage taken by a neighbor, grabbed the hose when fire personnel arrived and began pouring water on the blaze. The residential structure – a boarding home that housed 12 adults – was engulfed in flames. The video shows Scwartz dressed in jeans and a T-shirt.
“SAFE: How to Protect Yourself, Your Family and Your Home” by Wayne LaPierre is the starting place for all-around preparedness – for storms, for natural disasters, for fires, floods, crime and terrorism. This is the ultimate encyclopedia of emergency readiness.
Whether it was someone at the scene or someone who saw the footage on local news has not been disclosed, but a complaint was filed accusing the captain of “working at a scene while he was off duty,” in the words of Joe Halman, deputy county manager.
“Once we get all the facts we’ll determine if there were any violations of policy,” Halman told the Lakeland Ledger. “Whenever there is a complaint filed we have to look into it. We have to gather the facts and that’s what we’re doing right now. But I commend him for his actions. Ideally, he should have his protective equipment on, but he saved someone’s life.”
In the chaos Schwartz and others evacuated residents of the home. Schwartz is credited with saving the life of a man stuck near the side of the burning house, reported WFLA News.
Bureaucracy or not, neighbors praised Schwartz for his actions.
“Anybody who is in that field is not going to turn a blind eye,” said Diana Stewart, who took the video footage and noted any other first-responder would have done the same thing.
“I stood in the middle of the road and I begged people to get out of their cars to help,” said neighbor Loretta Deal.
“I lost all of my important papers, my medicines, my Social Security card. We lost everything,” said Linda Humphries, one of the residents of the destroyed home.
“Whether they’re on duty or off duty that’s their job. He should be in no trouble for that at all,” Humphries said.
Following an investigation by the state fire marshal, a 62-year-old resident of the home was charged with first-degree arson and two counts of arson causing serious bodily harm. Two deputies suffered smoke inhalation while retrieving the man.
Halman said the investigation should be completed this week. If policy violations are found, a letter of reprimand may be issued, although the deputy manager thinks county commissioners would be inclined to honor Schwartz, who is president of the local fire-fighters union.
“Even though he wasn’t on duty at the time he had a heart and a mind to try it to help somebody who really needed it,” Humphries said.
“He should be awarded instead of disciplined,” added Deal.