The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF) selected Officer Benjamin Henrich of the City of Prescott (Wis.) Police Department as its Officer of the Month for January 2008.
On February 17, 2007, at approximately 8:51 pm, a pickup truck driven by a 39-year-old woman crashed into a house in Prescott, Wis. As dispatchers began receiving calls about the accident Officer Benjamin Henrich, who was en route to a 911 hang-up call in the neighborhood, radioed in that he would respond, and arrived within minutes of the crash.
As he approached the residence the strong odor of natural gas was unmistakable and he ordered the residents to move quickly to a safe distance away from the house. The pickup had plowed more than six feet into the residence, severing a main natural gas line. Henrich knew that it would not take much for the gas to ignite, which would certainly damage the structure and more importantly, threaten the lives of those close by.
Henrich turned his attention to the female driver who was disoriented and unresponsive. He knew that he had little time to extricate her from the vehicle and began banging on the windows in an effort to get her attention. As he attempted to break the window, it seemed as if time stood still. A sudden explosion threw Officer Henrich through the air, approximately 20 feet away from the automobile and the house, which were now both fully engulfed in flames. He landed facing away from the firebolt and he believes he was unconscious for a few seconds before opening his eyes. "I knew I was alive and that everything behind me was on fire," said Henrich.
Regaining consciousness, Henrich cautioned bystanders, who were rushing to assist him, to remain back at a safe distance. When he reached his cruiser, he radioed in and uttered the words no dispatcher ever wants to hear, "Officer Down."
As other officers and emergency crews arrived, they ensured that Officer Henrich's condition was stabilized before he was rushed to the hospital. Firefighters began battling the blaze that continued to burn for more than three hours. Henrich was treated and released from the hospital with minor burns, scrapes, and bruises.
Tragically, the driver was killed in the explosion. It is believed that in her disoriented state, she turned the key in the ignition, the spark of which likely ignited the natural gas.
In the wake of the incident it was found that the explosion was powerful enough to crack windows and knock pictures off walls in buildings up to four blocks away. At a press conference Officer Henrich expressed to the woman's family and friends his sorrow in not being able to free her from the pickup.
In response, a spokeswoman for the victim's family stated, "It was a heroic effort by Officer Henrich to save her life and we are grateful to him."
Officer Benjamin Henrich recovered from the incident and was back on duty less than two weeks later. The 2004 graduate of the University of Minnesota continues to serve and protect with the City of Prescott (Wis.) Police Department.
The NLEOMF Officer of the Month Program is sponsored by a generous contribution from uniform manufacturer The Force. For more information visit www.nleomf.org.