Police officer receives award for saving man on fire

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Warning: This story discusses graphic details that may be upsetting to some readers.

Saving the life of a wanted man by rolling him on the ground after he caught on fire, is not something police officers expect to do on the job. But, that’s what Constable Scott Higby did a year ago in Hamilton.

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Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Higby has been awarded a silver medal by the Royal Humane Society of New Zealand, which recognises those who put themselves at risk to save another’s life.

He told Morning Report police arrived at an address after a man had assaulted his partner and attempted to set the house on fire with his partner inside.

“We arrived there with that situation to deal with and managed to get the female out of the way and the next step was he actually went inside the house with a can of petrol and tried to set the entire house and himself on fire.”

As the fire was lit, Higby could see the flames moving around on top of the petrol. It was moving very slowly towards him.

He ran in.

“I had enough time in my mind that I could get back out.”

Going in, Higby made sure he had an exit.

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“I went in there to try and stop him and didn’t manage to stop him setting himself alight.”

He quickly left the house but realised because the man was in the hallway of the house. An external door behind him would be a way to get him out, he thought.

“I went around to the back of the address with a colleague I was working with at the time. We managed to find that door and I could see that he was right behind it.”

The man was on the ground, on fire and not moving, he said.

So Higby smashed the windows. The man stood up and opened the door.

“And then I got him out, rolled him on the ground and then covered him in water.”

It was a lot of things happening at once, he said.

“These situations do happen a lot, not exactly that but things like this.

“Time sort of slows down around you and you can see everything for what it is.”

Higby didn’t know if the man would survive.

“When he came out of the house and for a little while afterwards he was fine, well not fine, he was able to walk and talk and yell and everything and then pretty much as soon as he got into the ambulance he was completely the opposite, unconscious.”

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It’s something he thinks about often, the pace of how everything happened.

Police deal with a lot everyday but you can never predict what will happen, he said.

“When you show up you’re just faced with what’s in front of you, you can only react to what you see.”

Higby has attended a couple of house fires as part of his work and says he’s taken learnings from those.

Where to get help:

Need to Talk? Free call or text 1737 any time to speak to a trained counsellor, for any reason.

Women’s Refuge: (0800 733 843)

It’s Not OK (0800 456 450)

Shine: 0508 744 633

Victim Support: 0800 650 654

HELP Call 24/7 (Auckland): 09 623 1700, (Wellington): be 04 801 6655 – 0

The National Network of Family Violence Services NZ has information on specialist family violence agencies.

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