It wasn’t the flames that Gwinnett County Master Police Officer Ashley Wilson was concerned with as she ran into a burning house in Snellville last November.
It was the woman she thought might be inside the house.
Wilson was responding to a domestic violence call from the son of a couple who told 911 dispatchers that his father was threatening to kill his mother — and any police officers who tried to intervene. She arrived to find the father on fire and the mother nowhere to be seen.
As flames burned through the house, all Wilson could think about was the possibility that the mother was in the house. So, the police officer ran into the burning house to look for her.
“I didn’t want her to die,” Wilson said.
For her efforts in responding to the scene last fall, Wilson — who has been employed by the Gwinnett County Police Department for nearly five years — received the Gwinnett Chamber’s Gold Medal of Valor Award during a luncheon at the Infinite Energy Forum on Tuesday.
Wilson said there was a lot of uncertainty about what was going on at the house on Quinn Ridge on that November day. The son had called 911 to report the situation.
“At the time, we didn’t know how many people were in the house,” Wilson said.
Wilson said she parked down the street when she arrived. The first thing she wanted to do was get an assessment of the situation and try to determine what exactly was happening.
“All I was thinking was ‘Get up to the house, see what’s going on’ and ... get an idea of what was going on and what the house looked like and then wait for another unit,” Wilson said.
As she approached the house, she noticed something starting to catch on fire, although she did not know what it was at first. She then realized it was the father. He had set himself on fire, Wilson said.
“I told him, ‘Stop, Drop and Roll,’ and he just shook his head ‘No’ and sat down,” she said. “So, I just grabbed him by the arms and just pulled him out into the grass so I could roll him. When that wasn’t working, I went to look for something to smother the fire out and that’s what I found (a) rug.”
Wilson then realized the house was also on fire. At the point, they had still not determined where the mother was, and Wilson thought it was possible she could be injured inside the house.
So, into the burning home, which was filled with smoke, Wilson went to look for the mother.
“I knew there had to be somebody else in there from what was on the 911 call and you know I didn’t know what I was going to see when I got inside and as I went to up the stairs, the smoke was so thick and it was hard to breath,” Wilson said. “And, while putting him (the father) out, I had burned my hands so I just had to back out.”
Wilson said she later found out the mother had left the house before the son called 911.
“Thankfully, she was OK,” Wilson said.
Wilson had always wanted to become a public safety officer, but her father did not want her to join the Thin Blue Line right away after graduating from high school.
In a video played during the Valor Awards luncheon on Tuesday, Wilson recounted the stipulations her parents put on her before they would give their blessing to become a police officer.
“My parents were really adamant about going to college and having a backup degree and then working in my field from my degree for at least two years,” Wilson said. “And, almost to the day of my two year mark, I told my dad ‘I’m going to be a police officer,’ and they gave me their blessing.”
Wilson said the actions this year’s Valor Award recipients and nominees were recognized for showing the commitment public safety officers have to serving the Gwinnett County community.
One example is Gwinnett Fire and Emergency Services Driver Engineer Stanley Bowers, who received the Silver Medal of Valor Award. He was recognized for going into swift moving waters to rescue a swimmer.
“I think those who chose to serve really have the guardianship mentality of our community — that we’re here as guardians to protect our community,” Wilson said. “Whether that means running into dangerous situations or pulling people out of a raging river, that’s really where our heart is.”