Emergency officials responded to a house fire in Mission at about 11 p.m. on Aug. 19. The first person to arrive at the scene was Aaron Gonzales.
“I guess I had to be a firefighter that day,” the Mission police officer said.
Gonzales, 34, was already near the area when he heard the dispatcher say there was a burning home nearby that could have two to three children and an adult inside. He turned in that direction and saw the cloud of thick, dense smoke blanketing the neighborhood. Bystanders pointed him to the right home.
Upon his arrival a young boy told him his grandfather was still in the house. But there weren’t any firefighters at the scene yet; Gonzales was on his own.
“You see it in movies and stuff where they run into a burning house,” he said, describing the burning sensation on his eyes, head and face. “…It’s nothing like Hollywood.”
Once he penetrated through the cloud of heat and smoke, he saw the arm of Delfino Lopez, a 78-year-old Vietnam veteran, sticking out of the hallway. He was just out of arm’s reach.
Gonzales went inside the building and tried to drag the man out, but the fluids on his arms made the task difficult.
“It felt like if I yanked too hard his skin might come off,” Gonzales described. Eventually, he needed to go back out for air.
“That was the first time I thought about what I was actually doing,” he said. Then, after rubbing his eyes, taking a few deep breaths and putting on gloves, he went back in. Lopez kept saying “sacame por favor,” Gonzales recalls.
He stood over Lopez, picked him up from the armpits and dragged him to the driveway. Lopez was taken to a hospital near San Antonio where he died a few days later. Before the paramedics took him, his back left a bloodstain on the burning home’s driveway.
Gonzales came home early that night and told his wife what had just happened. After she heard him tell the story, she shoved him, and asked: “Are you a firefighter or a cop?”
“What does it matter?” he responded. “I’m a first responder… Sometimes you don’t have the time to sit and think about things.”
Since then, Gonzales has received accolades from his police department, including a plaque honoring him for his selfless actions.
“The thing is to make a split decision,” Gonzalez said. “You’re here, you’re in uniform, it’s your job.”