February 22, 2023 at 4:22 p.m.
Grabmeier leads resident out of burning home
Sauk Centre Police Department footage taken from officer Eric Grabmeier’s body camera shortly after 1 a.m. Feb. 19 shows how speed and clear thinking are needed during a house fire.
In the footage, Grabmeier enters the home of Dave and Catherine Dahle on the 700 block of Fifth Street South in Sauk Centre. Thick smoke can be seen in the glow of Grabmeier’s flashlight, and his coughing can be heard.
The footage also shows Grabmeier passing by flames, and he asks his partner, Branton Stowell, to grab him a fire extinguisher. As he makes his way closer to a stairway, Catherine can be heard saying she cannot see.
It was the Dahles’ 14-year-old grandson, James, who alerted his grandparents and the authorities to the fire. He was staying with the couple and up late that night when he smelled smoke coming from the basement.
Records show emergency crews were dispatched just after 1 a.m.
Grabmeier and Stowell were the first to arrive on the scene within two minutes after the 911 call was made.
Although smoke was already seeping out of the facia and other parts of the house, the weather that night made it hard to see, so knowing which house was on fire was not immediately obvious.
“It was pretty foggy, so it was hard to distinguish at first what was smoke and what was fog,” Grabmeier said.
Dave and James told him which house was theirs. Then, Dave headed back toward the house, aiming to go back in. When Grabmeier stopped him, Dave said Catherine was in the house.
“That’s when instinct kicks in,” Grabmeier said. “You don’t have time for anything once you know somebody is in trouble and can’t get out themselves. You just go for it and try to help them out.”
After entering the home and hearing Catherine’s voice coming from the upper level, Grabmeier’s body camera footage shows him ascending the stairs, asking if Catherine can see his flashlight. She lets him know she can.
Next, with smoke so thick it is difficult to see what is happening in the footage, Grabmeier finds Catherine and gives her instructions.
“Grab my back, around my neck,” he said.
At that point, the video ends. However, the rescue continued.
Grabmeier was able to safely carry Catherine down the stairs and out of the house. He then returned with the fire extinguisher.
“I put out the visible flames I could see next to the staircase,” Grabmeier said. “I didn’t know (the fire) went all the way down through the ventilation system.”
When firefighters and ambulance crew members arrived, the Dahles were taken to CentraCare Hospital in Sauk Centre where Catherine stayed the night to be treated for smoke inhalation. Grabmeier and Stowell were treated at the scene. The fire department put out the fire.
First signs point to a dryer in the basement being the source of the blaze. Everyone, including the Dahles’ pets, made it out safely.
“The challenging part was locating where Catherine was in a three-story house,” Grabmeier said. “I was so happy to hear her voice because I knew she was alive, and I could go to her and take her out of the fire.”
After Grabmeier was cleared by medical personnel, he got back to work, giving information to other emergency crew members, gathering information for a report and directing emergency vehicles and traffic. He was on the second of his three-in-a-row, 12-hour night shifts, each running from 3 p.m. until 3 a.m.
Although the Dahles declined to comment to media, according to a page set up on their behalf at a fundraising website, they are staying in a hotel for now because their home is unlivable. The page also reports that the Dahles’ granddaughters, Ana and Scarlett, dropped off flowers for Grabmeier as well as Catherine Monday.
The Dahles’ daughter, Rachel Lawinger, is James’ mom. She wrote about Grabmeier on the website.
“A brave officer, who was on scene first, went inside to carry (my mom) out,” Lawinger said. “The news showed body cam footage, and I was in awe watching that on the news. He is a hero.”
Grabmeier, who has been a police officer since 2007, said he does not think of himself as a hero. He is simply glad he could help.
“We all have opportunities where we find ourselves at the right place at the right time,” Grabmeier said. “Either you act one way or you act another way. In this case, due to the circumstances, it’s getting publicized more, but (in police work) emergency situations happen all the time.”