Even without protective fire gear, some Las Vegas police officers were quick to scale the side of the three-story Alpine Motel Apartments building to help residents escape what would become the city’s deadliest residential fire.
The Metropolitan Police Department’s heroic efforts on the morning of Dec. 21 were revealed for the first time Thursday, after the Las Vegas Review-Journal filed a lawsuit against the agency for body camera footage, 911 calls and radio traffic.
Metro had repeatedly denied the newspaper’s requests for records related to the fire, claiming they were confidential due to an open investigation. But just hours after the lawsuit was filed, Metro said the records had been “deemed not confidential” and turned over a combined two hours of body camera videos and audio recordings.
Las Vegas Fire Department 911 calls and radio traffic were released by city officials last month but largely highlighted only the Fire Department’s response to the blaze, which killed six people and injured 13 more.
The release of Metro’s body camera videos paints a more complete picture of how the departments worked side by side that morning — an aspect of fire rescue efforts not often seen by the public.
“We are extremely proud of our officers’ actions,” Metro spokeswoman Alejandra Zambrano said Friday. “Public safety is our No. 1 priority, and they definitely exemplified that.”
‘A pulse, no breathing’
One of those moments, when an officer jumped in to perform CPR on a victim just outside the building, was captured in a roughly three-minute video.
“He was probably about 5 feet in,” a firefighter announces as he points toward the building at 213 N. Ninth St.
“Can you start CPR for me?” another firefighter asks the officer, who is on his knees next to the motionless body. The victim’s face, hair and hands are black from soot.
Without hesitation, the officer places his hands on the victim’s chest, and he pumps and pumps — up and down, up and down, up and down.
While the officer works on the victim, a group of firefighters scramble to get the man onto a stretcher.
“A pulse, no breathing, nothing else,” a voice can be heard saying in the background.
The victim is eventually loaded into the back of an ambulance, though whether he survived remains unclear.
Another video, captured by a sergeant’s body camera, revealed that rather than wait for ladders to start helping victims out of the building, some officers climbed onto a ledge to get to people trapped in a second-story unit.
“We need more ladders on the south side. We have people on the second floor. Expedite it, please!” the sergeant, identifying himself as call sign “760,” radios in.
Metro radio traffic records show that, on the morning of the fire, call sign “760” was assigned to Sgt. Marcin Zemsta.
Balancing one foot on the ledge and the other on a pipe, the video shows, one officer acts as a ladder to bridge the gap between a window and the ledge.
The residents crawl out the window, and climb on top of and around the officer to get to the ledge. Below, Zemsta and another officer hold out their arms to catch the residents.
“We got you, we got you,” one of the officers yells as a woman sits on the ledge, sobbing and screaming.
Moments later, another officer approaches the rescue group and asks Zemsta, “Give me a boost real quick?”
Zemsta holds out his hands, and the officer steps onto them and up to the ledge to help the other officer, who is struggling to get a man out the window.
At the same time, to the right of the frantic rescues, a thick blanket of smoke pours out of a ground floor window, the black smoke rising into the pre-dawn sky.
The blaze likely was caused by a stove being used to heat a first-floor unit, the Fire Department has said, though authorities have yet to disclose in which apartment the fire broke out.
Fire Department radio traffic previously revealed that the blaze was out within a minute of firefighters entering the building, but poor ventilation in the property enabled smoke to swell rapidly. In addition to the smoke, residents were trapped inside the building by a bolted rear exit door.
Metro’s homicide section has opened a criminal investigation into the fire. Court records show that no charges had been filed in connection with the case as of Friday, though the family of one of the victims has leveled a wrongful death lawsuit against the Alpine’s owner, Adolfo Orozco.
Orozco has owned the property since 2013 under Las Vegas Dragon LLC.