Columbia police officer pulls woman from exploding home

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COLUMBIA, Tenn. (WKRN) — A Columbia Police officer is being hailed a hero after he risks his own life to pull a woman from an exploding home.

It happened Early Friday morning when a home on Rinks Circle in the Riverside neighborhood caught fire and oxygen tanks inside the house begin exploding.

Columbia Police Corporal Allen Ervin was first to arrive at the scene. As soon as the 12-year veteran got out of his cruiser, his body cam recorded a major explosion.

A review of the video shows the fire erupting in a gas ball that blows out the windows and parts of the front of the home.

Despite falling debris and the possibility of more explosions, Ervin raced toward the danger. As he approached through the haze, the officer found three people outside the home, frantically pointing inside the entry way of the burning home.

With little regard for his own wellbeing, the Columbia officer goes into the house and finds 37-year-old April Chumley lying near the front door. Neighbors tell News 2 that the woman is severely disabled, non-communicative, and incapable of escaping the inferno on her own.

Corporal Ervin grabbed hold of the woman and pulled her to safety, saving her life.

The woman’s parents, 57-year-old Lisa Melheim and 54-year-old Joe Hartsfield were able to get out of the home before the blast.

The parents were transported to Maury Regional Medical Center while Chumley was flown by helicopter to the Vanderbilt University Medical Center burn unit. Hartsfield will later be transferred there as well.

Columbia Deputy Fire Chief Nick Brown says the officer’s actions are heroic and saved lives.

“He is limited in some of the things he can do, but one of the things he can do is locate the victim safely, pull that victim out. With him doing that, it probably saved this woman’s life.”

Columbia Fire and Rescue were on the scene in minutes. They were also in danger, tasked with battling a raging inferno with the potential for more explosions at any moment.

“Fire personnel arrived on scene, and they had several challenges,” recalled Chief Brown, “The first is a house on fire and oxygen cylinders, with multiple explosions, and then patient care. This shows a great partnership between Columbia Fire and Rescue and Columbia Police, and it is a great example of both departments working together for one common goal, and that goal is life safety.”

Callie Braden has lived next door to the family for over 15 years.

“I heard a boom. A loud explosion,” she told News 2 from her from porch.

When asked what she was thinking as the reality of what was happening became more evident, she replied, “I’m like, did they get out?”

Braden told News 2 that she normally brings food to the family multiple times a week. She was going to bring the family food in the coming hours and then the explosion happened.

“Every time I look over and think, thank God. I usually go over there every Tuesday evening or Friday lunchtime to bring them food and I said, ‘Lord, you spared me. You knew what was on the other side of the walls there, and I didn’t.’ I was just praying, ‘Lord, did they get out?’ Because it was so explosive.”

Fire investigators tell News 2 the fire is ruled accidental. When it comes to a possible cause, investigators say they cannot rule out properly discarded smoking materials inside the home.

According to Vanderbilt University Medical Center, April Chumley is listed as in critical but stable condition. Her father, Hartsfield, is also listed in stable condition.

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