Officers Jason Bellavance, Sue E. Roberts, and William A. Sullivan III
Washington, DC—The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF) has announced the selection of University of Vermont Police Officers Jason Bellavance, Sue E. Roberts, and William A. Sullivan, III as the Officers of the Month for April 2005.
The 911 call came at 12 noon on Sunday, January 31, 2005, a call that would soon make three otherwise ordinary law enforcement officers heroes. Officers Sullivan and Field Trainee Bellavance responded to the call of a gas leak in a privately owned residence hall on the University of Vermont campus.
Upon arrival the officers were informed that many residents in the building were either dead or unconscious. Officer Sullivan instructed Officer Bellavance to remain outside and maintain a calming presence for those who were able to leave the building. Officer Sullivan then entered the building, where he too immediately felt the effects of the lack of oxygen.
Entering the first apartment, Officer Sullivan saw the body of a man lying in the bedroom. Due to the condition of the body, he believed the gentleman to be dead. He yelled at the man several times, and after no response, began to feel his own desperate need for oxygen. Officer Sullivan ran outside, caught his breath, and ran back into the same fume-ridden apartment again. This time he found a woman who was, in fact, still breathing. Again, he was forced to leave the apartment to breathe.
Realizing there were still people in apartments upstairs, Officer Sullivan climbed the stairs in a weakened physical state. At the top of the stairs, his knees buckled and he felt as if he had “hit a wall.” He continued to go on, knowing there were people who still needed his help. As Officer Sullivan entered apartment 3-11, he located a woman on her back in the bedroom. She did not respond to his calls, and he noticed her eyes were open and dilated. He came across a second woman in the apartment, attempting to crawl in the hallway. Feeling lightheaded and breathless, he was forced to flee the apartment for oxygen; he could not carry the women in his weakened condition.
Once outside, Officer Sullivan ordered Officer Bellavance and the Rescue Crew Chief to keep everyone out of the building. Officer Bellavance was tasked as the site safety officer, as Officer Sullivan and Officer Sue Roberts, who had just arrived on the scene, reentered the building in an attempt to ventilate the space. They were able to open the back doors and window, but could not get the window open in the bedroom where the breathing woman lay. Again, they were forced to exit for oxygen. In another attempt to enter the apartment, both officers were so overcome by the fumes that they had to turn back.
The Burlington Fire Department arrived and a second shift of police officers was called to the scene. Officer Sullivan reentered apartment 3-11 with the first firefighter where they triaged the first woman on the floor and carried the second from the apartment. Officer Sullivan was on his way down the stairs when he lost his remaining strength and stamina. He could not reenter the building but informed fire fighters of the other incapacitated people left stranded in the building.
Seven people were rescued from the apartment building by Officer Sullivan, Officer Roberts, and a Burlington (VT) firefighter. All seven have fully recovered from the incident. Officer Sullivan and Officer Roberts were admitted to the Emergency Room where they were treated for carbon monoxide poisoning.
The collective efforts of Officers Sullivan, Bellavance and Roberts saved the lives of seven people that Sunday in January. Their bravery, persistence, and fighting determination are what made them heroes. The sacrifices and courage of law enforcement officers is what we remember and commemorate every day.
The Police Unity Tour is the official sponsor of the Memorial Fund’s Officer of the Month Program.