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Largo police officers cited for saving elderly women

Wilma Bayer woke up about 3:15 a.m. to a pounding on her door. Fire started to engulf her condominium complex and her unit was filling with smoke. The 81-year-old forgot she couldn't walk without her walker and fell trying to escape.

As she tried to crawl, two Largo police officers kicked open her door and pulled her to safety.

"If someone wouldn't have broke the door down and come in, I wouldn't be alive," Bayer said this week, three months after the fire.

On Tuesday, at Largo's City Commission meeting, police Officers Nicholas Cusumano and Tara Hansen were recognized for saving Bayer and another 82-year-old resident. Both received Largo Police Department Medal of Valor awards for their bravery during the June 18 blaze at Belleair Oaks condominium.

"I think it's just fantastic they're getting an award," said Bayer's daughter-in-law, Jeanne Bayer, who lives in Ohio. "There are so many times they probably risk their lives and don't get any recognition."

Largo firefighters were on the second floor of the complex as flames ripped through the building in June.

Cusumano and Hansen were on scene helping with traffic control when residents yelled out to them that people were still inside on the first floor.

The officers first broke windows in another unit to rescue an 82-year-old resident who was confused and couldn't get out by herself. Cusumano then forced open Bayer's door and both officers helped her get out.

"You come to work everyday, do your 10 hours and leave," Cusumano said. "This makes you realize you make a difference sometimes."

About 30 residents of the complex at 1975 West Bay Drive were left homeless. Belleair Oaks sustained $2.4-million damage in the fire, according to Assistant Fire Marshal Tim Wedin. The fire was considered accidental, likely caused by an electrical issue or careless smoking.

Bayer, who broke her shoulder when she fell, also inhaled a lot of smoke. She spent a month in the hospital and two months in a rehabilitation center.

But the inner scars will take longer to heal, she said.

She lost her beloved parrot, Maxie, and most of her personal items, except for some jewelry and knickknacks. She just moved into a new Largo apartment last week.

"I'm 81 and I lost things I had for years," Bayer said. "That hurts."

In other City Commission business

City commissioners also Tuesday night:

• Approved a 4 percent raise for themselves.

• Ratified a new three-year labor agreement with the Police Benevolent Association of Pinellas County.

Largo police officers cited for saving elderly women 09/16/08 [Last modified: Thursday, September 18, 2008 9:06pm]
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