KAYSVILLE — Four Kaysville police officers were hospitalized Thursday with burns they suffered while trying to help a suicidal man who set himself on fire at a gas station.
Three of the officers were released Thursday evening, but "the officer who dealt directly with the individual on fire" remained at University Hospital in fair condition, according to a post on the Kaysville City Facebook page. It says that officer is expected to be hospitalized for 10 days.
The incident began just before 2 p.m. at Chevron Top Stop, 320 W. 200 North, which is also a McDonald's restaurant. A man whom police described as suicidal walked in, purchased a gas can, then went outside to fill it up. He returned inside, then went into a bathroom, doused himself with the gasoline and threatened to light it, police say.
“Employees heard screaming and smelled gas" after the man went into the bathroom, said Waylon DeRobaum, manager of the Top Stop.
At least five Kaysville police officers responded to the 911 calls from the gas station. According to investigators, officers were attempting to restrain the man and grab a lighter from his hand when he managed to use it to start the fire.
Officers extinguished the flames covering the man and dragged him outside the building.
Two were taken from the scene by medical helicopter and the other three were transported by ambulance.
The customer who police say was suicidal, along with three officers, were taken to the burn unit at University Hospital in Salt Lake City. One officer was transported to Davis Hospital and Medical Center in Layton.
Three officers were treated and later released. The man whom police helped remained hospitalized in the burn unit in critical condition with "severe" burns.
“It’s heartbreaking. It’s very emotional for me to hear and see,” said Kaysville Police Chief Sol Oberg.
"I saw some of the burns and they were substantial — to the back of one officer, the arm and face of one officer. There was some concern about burns in their mouth and throat or lungs that would block an airway," he said, adding that the officers were alert but in pain when he arrived, and they were worried about each other.
"I feel a lot of pride in the fact that these officers, without hesitation, responded to an emergency to save not only this suicidal person but a lot of other people in what could have been literally an explosive situation here," Oberg said.
"But it's heartbreaking to see these great men and women go through this, and see their burns and call their families and say that their spouse is injured."
Following calls of "officer down," police and firefighters from nearly a dozen agencies responded to the scene. Seven ambulances were sent as well as two AirMed helicopters.
Randy Palmer arrived at the Top Stop just as one officer was being loaded into an ambulance and another into a helicopter.
"I knew something big had happened and I was worried that it might be a mass shooting," he said.
After learning about what had occurred, Palmer said he considers the officers heroes. "They obviously put their lives on the line," he said.6 comments on this story
"We would like to thank every fire, law enforcement, and dispatch agency involved in the incident. Our thoughts and prayers are with our brothers and sisters in blue and their families. We wish them a speedy recovery!" Kaysville fire officials posted on Facebook.
Police and fire agencies throughout the state sent similar wishes through social media for the injured officers.
"Who knows how many people they may have saved," Palmer said. "I know it was horrible, but it could have been a lot worse."
The Utah Department of Health offers suicide prevention help at utahsuicideprevention.org/suicide-prevention-basic. The national crisis hotline is 1-800-784-2433.
Contributing: Annie Knox, Nicole Vowell