TAMPA — Tampa police reserve officer Michael Simpson was patrolling the Beach Park neighborhood Wednesday night when he smelled smoke nearby and knew something was wrong.
"As a veteran police officer, you start to recognize smells," he said. "You know what a fireplace is opposed to a garbage can on fire opposed to a building or a car on fire."
What he was smelling was fire from the home on 407 S Shore Crest Drive.
Simpson, a retired Tampa police corporal who was working an off-duty assignment, alerted Tampa Fire Rescue and headed toward the house. By the time he got there, he said fire consumed the entire area left of the doorway.
He entered a side door and found the residents — Glenn Tanner, 91, who has leukemia and is in a wheelchair, his wife Sally, 77, and a hospice nurse who cares for him. Using an elevator inside the house, Simpson moved the trio to garage level and out of the house.
Glenn sleeps in a hospital bed on the first floor. Simpson said this could have been deadly under different circumstances, as the bed was on the other side of a wall about 20 feet from the fire.
"My hindsight is, had this happened at three in the morning when they were asleep, we probably would have some devastating results," he said.
Sally's daughter Linda, 55, said she got a call from her mother at about 9:30 p.m. about the fire. She headed from her home about five minutes away and got to the house as firefighters put out the blaze.
The fire's damage to the house was about $90,000 and was caused by an electrical problem with a porch, Tampa police said. The couple will have to wait until the air quality improves to return.
"They're pretty shaken up, obviously," Linda Tanner said.
The couple, Tanner said, was grateful to get out of the house in time and for Simpson's help in doing so.
Simpson said the outpouring of support from both the public and the family has been rewarding.
"They were very appreciative that I was there and helped them and they thanked me," he said. "Her family arrived, her sons and daughters, and they thanked me. And that was all I needed."
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Jimmy Geurts can be reached at (813) 226-3402 or firstname.lastname@example.org.