KAHULUI Thanks to the help of an observant and quick-thinking Maui police officer, 12 occupants of a Kahului home escaped safely as a pot on a stove caught fire while the residents slept early Monday morning.
Rookie officer Gershom Slonim was driving along South Papa Avenue at about 2:24 a.m. when he saw dark smoke coming out of an open door to a two-story residence.
"I just saw the smoke. . . . It was illuminated by a porch light. I thought that was kind of weird. It was almost 2:30 in the morning," said the 24-year-old officer.
He stopped his patrol car and got his fire extinguisher and called dispatch to alert fire crews. He saw two men in the garage sleeping, woke them up and asked them if there were other residents in the home.
"I looked inside . . . I saw 3-foot flames coming from the kitchen. I went in and used my fire extinguisher to extinguish the fire. I yelled (in an) attempt to wake up the other occupants. I had to go back outside. I was having difficulty breathing," Slonim recalls.
Officers Randy Takayama and Darryl Honda arrived, and all three officers went inside to try and get the residents out and to keep others from going back into the home.
Then Slonim saw the fire flare up.
"I tried to put it out again," he said.
But Slonim's fire extinguisher was used up, and he was having trouble breathing from the thick black smoke, so he had to exit the residence.
When he got outside, Slonim was glad to see that everyone had gotten out safely and that Maui firefighters had arrived.
Slonim, who has been an officer for five months, said he was "just doing my job. That was it."
He said he and his partners were just trying to make sure everyone got out safely.
At his recruit class graduation in March, Slonim, a 2006 King Kekaulike High School graduate, received the Scholastic Achievement and Neil T. Endo Firearms awards.
"We are very thankful for the bravery of Maui Police Department Officers Gershom Slonim, Darryl Honda and Randy Takayama, whose actions saved many lives this morning. Our concern now is that these officers and victims fully recover from this particular fire," said Chief Gary Yabuta in a news release.
Fire crews from Kahului and Wailuku arrived at the home at 2:30 a.m. and had the fire under control at 2:51 a.m. and extinguished at 3:35 a.m.
A pot left on the stove caused a small fire in the kitchen and living room on the first floor of the home at 656 S. Papa Ave. The fire did not spread to the second floor, fire officials said.
Damage is estimated at $7,000 for the structure and contents. The occupants were not injured and did not require medical attention, fire officials said. The Red Cross also responded to the incident.
Slonim said that he and the other officers were treated for smoke inhalation.
Maui County fire officials want to remind residents about outfitting their homes with smoke alarms, which could have alerted the residents in the Kahului home long before officers arrived at the scene.
"The majority of fire deaths in the home are caused by occupants being trapped by a fire and overcome by the smoke because the occupants did not know that a fire was burning in the house," said Maui County Fire Prevention Bureau Capt. Paul Haake. "A smoke alarm detects a fire in its early stage of growth, alerts occupants of the presence of a fire and allows them time to escape."
He added that the department received a fire prevention grant to fund its Smoke Alarm Maui program, in which fire officials will provide and install smoke alarms in homes that do not have them and offer a home safety survey and fire prevention tips to residents.
Residents may submit an application to participate in the program. For information, call the Maui Fire Prevention Bureau at 244-9161.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.