- Cullman, Alabama

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July 11, 2014

3 people, 1 officer injured; dog killed in Cullman apartment fire

CULLMAN — When Brandon Gentry was stirred from bed early Friday morning after his wife heard screaming outside, he witnessed “smoke pouring out of the building” next to his at Oak Ridge Apartments. 

Ronald Chappell, who is a resident of the burned building, woke up around 2 a.m. Friday morning to his son’s panicked yells.
“My son was saying: ‘What’s going on’?” Chappell said.
When Chappell exited his apartment with his son, he saw the fire that injured three residents and one officer, killed one dog and damaged 16 units at Oak Ridge Apartments Friday morning. The apartment complex is off U.S. Highway 278 at 220 Donauer Drive SW. 
“I saw flames through the door of the apartment next door,” Chappell said. 
Chappell’s son, Noah Chappell, who lives with his father at Oak Ridge, is a volunteer with American Red Cross. Noah assisted the organization in their efforts to relieve the residents — his neighbors — of the destroyed apartments. 
“We’re offering food on site and hotel rooms for the displaced residents,” said Lorraine Lee, the community chapter executive for the American Red Cross.
The identities of the three injured is still unknown, but the officer injured was Jeff Lawson. According to Craig Green, the Cullman Police Department’s assistant chief of police, Lawson was cleared by a doctor but will have a follow up in the next few days. 
Lawson was exposed to intense smoke while he and two other officers entered the building to save a man.
Officers Bailey Machler and Justin Craft entered building along with Lawson.
Despite no obligation to enter the building, the officers entered at risk to their own lives. The man inside was trying to save his pets.
“We don’t have a policy that requires we go in and save this man,” Green said. “They had the option to choose between two reasonable choices, and they choose the heroic route.” 

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