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McCrabb: This time, Middletown Purple Heart recipient was in the right place at the right time

A woman was trapped inside this burning Middletown residence on July 26 and she was carried to safety by two Middletown police officers. MIDDLETOWN DIVISION OF FIRE
A woman was trapped inside this burning Middletown residence on July 26 and she was carried to safety by two Middletown police officers. MIDDLETOWN DIVISION OF FIRE

Steve Crank has experienced two life-and-death situations 10 years apart.

In February 2010, Crank, a member of the U.S. Army, and his fellow soldiers were ambushed by enemy forces in Iraq. During the attack, Crank was struck by a grenade in his arms and legs, injuries that qualified him for a Purple Heart.

“Nothing you can change about it,” Crank said when asked about the attack. “It’s not the best of memories. But I’ve had plenty of time to deal with it. Wrong place at the wrong time.”

Then last week, Crank and fellow officer Adam Grindstaff were in the right place at the right time.

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As they were getting off duty on the morning of July 26 and returning to the Middletown police station in the City Building, they noticed heavy smoke and flames coming from the area of Manchester Avenue and Grimes Street, several blocks away.

They immediately responded in separate cruisers and dispatchers informed them one person, possibly a woman, was in the kitchen. Seconds later, Crank said, they were “trying to figure out what was going on.”

A man standing in the alley behind the burning home told the officers a woman was trapped.

“He said, ‘She’s inside. She’s inside,‘” Crank said.

The officers jumped over the fence and located a door that was not overcome by flames. They kicked in the door, smoke billowed outside and their instincts and training took over. They turned on their flashlights, dropped to their knees and crawled through the thick smoke toward the kitchen.

Crank said he saw two legs near the stove. He carefully pulled the woman, who was unconscious and severely burned, toward him and carried her out of the residence.

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Once outside, the officers were pinned in the backyard without a clear path to the street through the flames. They knocked down the chain-linked fence and handed the woman to Middletown paramedics.

She was transported to Atrium Medical Center, then Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton with serious burns, police said.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation, according to fire officials. Middletown received mutual aid from Monroe and firefighters were on the scene from 6:23 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. The fire caused $25,000 in damages to the property, $10,000 to contents, according to the fire report.

Middletown’s 911 emergency dispatch received three calls about the fire. The third caller, a man who was crying, said, “There is a woman in there. She’s in the kitchen.”

Middletown police Chief David Birk said he “couldn’t be prouder” of his officers who risked their lives by rushing into the burning home. Crank is a three-year veteran, and Grindstaff joined the department in January.

“They are trained to react to situations and find the best way to find a solution,” Birk said. “We don’t train to enter burning buildings. They are true heroes.”

Crank, 30, a 2008 Middletown High School graduate, and Grindstaff, 28, were asked about the “hero” badge. Do they consider themselves heroes?

“Absolutely not,” said Crank, whose father is a major in the Middletown police department. “I just want to do my job and go home. We just were there first.”

Grindstaff said: “We hear that a lot. But it was just a day on the job.”

A woman was trapped inside this burning Middletown residence on July 26 and she was carried to safety by two Middletown police officers. MIDDLETOWN DIVISION OF FIRE
A woman was trapped inside this burning Middletown residence on July 26 and she was carried to safety by two Middletown police officers. MIDDLETOWN DIVISION OF FIRE

Middletown officer Steve Crank is being credited with helping rescue a woman who was trapped inside a building house.
Middletown officer Steve Crank is being credited with helping rescue a woman who was trapped inside a building house.

Middletown officer Adam Grindstaff entered a burning house and helped rescue a woman who was trapped in the kitchen.
Middletown officer Adam Grindstaff entered a burning house and helped rescue a woman who was trapped in the kitchen.