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Officer receives Medal of Honor

BRADENTON — A Bradenton Police Department officer received the agency’s highest honor Tuesday afternoon after a woman was rescued from a burning home in the Manatee Pond subdivision last month.

Master Patrol Officer Justin Gause was just a couple blocks away from the home, which was engulfed in flames Jan. 22.

A neighbor in the 1400 block of 17th Street Circle East saw the blaze and a man in the garage pouring a liquid on the fire, which was growing out of control. The neighbor called 911 and after dispatch relayed the message, Gause arrived on scene within 20 seconds, he said.

Gause immediately took the man into custody and secured him. He learned the man’s mother was inside the burning residence in the front bedroom.

Gause said he entered the home filled with smoke on instinct, not thinking of his safety.

Once inside, the woman did not want to leave. “She pretty much told me she would rather burn,” Gause said.

He physically removed the woman from the home and took her to safety where paramedics checked her out.

Gause received the Medal of Honor, which is an award given to officers in cases where they risk their lives in the line of duty, in the presence of his family and fellow officers at City Hall.

“I can’t express in words,” he said when asked about receiving the award. “I love doing my job.”

On Tuesday afternoon, the home remained boarded up and there was smoke damage to the front door.

The woman’s son, who suffers from mental illness, was taken into custody under the Baker Act after the incident and had charges of attempted murder and arson forwarded to the state attorney’s office for review.

Officers are normally on scene of fires to block off streets from the public as firefighters combat the flames.

“You would be surprised,” Bradenton Police Deputy Chief Jeffrey Lewis said. “It seems to be officers are always rescuing people from burning structures. They are out on rounds and when calls come in officers are first to arrive on scene. So they have the initial opportunity to try and save any of the occupants inside.”

A Bradenton Police officer saves someone from a burning building on average once a year, he said.

Bradenton Police Sgt. William Knight, who was the last officer to receive the Medal of Honor, was named Officer of the Year for 2009 after he rescued a man who set a trailer on fire and refused to leave Oct. 22, 2008.

Last month, the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office recognized three deputies, Michael Gerholdt, John Lawson and Bryce Meade, who rescued a couple from a burning residence Jan. 10.