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911 call: “Oh, my God, I’m stuck in a building. Help me please.”

BURLINGTON, Iowa – The first call into the Des Moines County Communications dispatch center seemed routine.

But moments later, the next call was anything but...

"How can I help you?" asked dispatcher Kevin Newberry.

On the other side of the line, a frantic voice.

"Oh, my God, I'm stuck in a building... help me please."

"What's your address?"

When the downtown Burlington Tama building caught fire on August 4th, 2018, dispatchers Roger Cook and Kevin Newberry were working the overnight shift at the County's Communications Center.

It was Kevin Newberry who received the call from a woman trapped inside a rapidly growing fire scene.

"What's going on?" asks Newberry, trying to keep a conversation going.

"The building's on fire and I can't get out."

24-year-old Sara Zeller of Fairfield was on the person on the phone calling for help.

The third floor of the building and the fire was getting hotter.  She spotted an officer below but he didn't see her.

"He turned the wrong way," she tells Newberry.

"Does he see you?" he asks.

"No, I don't think so."

"You're kinda there on somebody's worst day of their lives so it's your job to take that panic and turn it into something the responders can use," Newberry told News 8.

The proof of the professionalism is on the recording.

"Listen to me," he tells Zeller.  

For the next ten minutes, Newberry used his training to keep Sara calm and help direct rescuers to where she was trapped.

"Okay, they see you okay?"  he asks.   "So as soon as the fire department gets there they're going to get a ladder up to you."

Fire crews arrived at the Tama building just two minutes after that first call.   But the fire was spreading quickly.

"Our initial priority was the rescue of the female from the third floor," said Burlington firefighter Todd Van Scoy, among the first responders at the fire that night.

From where Sara was trapped, she could see the flames of the fire get closer and closer.

And Newberry wanted to make sure she was ready.

"If the smoke fills, I want you to get as low as you can."

His priority was to stay on the phone with Zeller as long as he could.

"Yes," he told us.   "Any big call we're going to stay on the phone until the phone disconnects, basically."

And he told Zeller just that on the night of the fire.

"I understand. I'm on the phone with you. We'll get through this."

As fire crews tried to stop the fire in the back, rescuers reached Sara and brought her out from the third-floor window where she had called for help.

"Okay, the ladder's over here," Zeller told Newberry on the phone.

"I'm getting off the phone.  Thank you, thank you so much."

"Obviously we're not the responders, we're not the heroes, those guys are, the ones that put their lives on the line," Newberry told News 8.

"We do the very best to help you out and we really felt that we helped the community that night."

Zeller was not hurt that night.   Four firefighters were treated for minor injuries.

Both Kevin Newberry and Roger Cook have received commendations for their work that night.


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