KAYSVILLE — From his hospital bed, Kaysville police officer Robert Jackson recounted the events from last week that left him with burns as he tried to help a man who lit himself on fire.
"My job is to protect lives, and if I have to risk mine to save somebody else, I'm going to do that," Jackson said Thursday.
Jackson, along with officers Lacy Turner, Cade Bradshaw and Sgt. Shawn McKinnon proved that the police motto "to protect and to serve" isn't just talk.
All four officers were injured April 5 during the incident that began inside the bathroom of a Chevron Top Stop, 320 W. 200 North, which is connected to a McDonald's restaurant. Two other officers were also treated for smoke inhalation.
On Thursday, the four burned officers spoke publicly for the first time about their courageous actions. Three of them spoke in person at the Kaysville Police Department while Jackson, the most severely injured of the four, joined the group via Skype from his room at University Hospital.
Dramatic surveillance video from inside the store was also released Thursday. The four officers can be seen in very tight quarters near the bathroom of the convenience store, all trying to get a lighter away from Tyler Ivison, 26, who had doused himself and the bathroom with gasoline.
As the flames erupt, all five people are seen trying to frantically get out of the bathroom. One officer is seen rolling out of the room as Ivison also falls to the floor on fire. Smoke quickly fills the store.
"It was scary, it was hot, it was intense, and it was just, 'We need to get out of here,’” McKinnon recalled.
McKinnon watched the video for the first time Thursday just 10 minutes before the press conference began.
"It's tough to watch. It's very hard to watch. And it's just amazing everyone is alive and doing as well as they are," he said.
When asked if he thought he was going to die, McKinnon replied, "Absolutely."
"You felt trapped," he added.
Bradshaw said it all happened very quickly, and he just remembers "that sound of fire going up." He, too, was "shocked" when he first saw the video and recalled everyone that day going into "survival mode."
Turner grabbed a fire extinguisher to help Jackson, who said he wasn't able to put the fire out himself. Another officer threw a blanket over Ivison to extinguish his flames.
Jackson and Bradshaw, who were the closest to Ivison when the fire ignited, suffered the worst injuries among the officers. Jackson suffered third-degree burns on both his calves and a second-degree burn on the back of his left arm from his wrist to his shoulder.
He said he won't know how much longer he'll have to stay in the hospital until after an upcoming surgery.
Jackson said he was attempting to talk to the man to put the lighter down before the fire started. Kaysville Police Chief Sol Oberg said his officers weren't telling the man he was going to be arrested. Instead, they attempted to calm him down by assuring him he'd be OK and they would get him the help he needed.
Jackson was also stalling to give customers time to get out of the store.
"I wanted to make sure that I could do everything that I could to help everyone get out of that situation as fast as we could. Unfortunately, I caught fire and that was scary, and a couple other of my officers got burned as well," he said.
Turner agreed that it wasn't just Ivison they were trying to save.
"There was more than just him and us in that room," she said. "We’re ready to lay down our lives for anybody."
But after several minutes of negotiating, "At some point we realized we're not getting through to him," Turner recalled.
Ivison had a cigarette lighter with a lid that opened and closed, Jackson said. When Ivison momentarily closed the lid, Jackson made the decision to go "hands on" and get the device out of his hands.
Unfortunately, Ivison was able to get the lighter open and light it.
"All of a sudden I thought, 'Man, I'm getting really hot. I’m not really sure why.' And at that moment I saw flames and I just knew I needed to get out of there," Jackson said.
Bradshaw, who also tried to grab the lighter but couldn't get a good grip because the floor was very slippery from gasoline and water, suffered second-degree burns on the backs of both his arms and some burns to his face. Turner and McKinnon also suffered some burns but were back in uniform Thursday.
The investigation into the incident, including whether to file charges, is ongoing, the chief said. Ivison remained hospitalized Thursday in critical condition.
All of the officers said they are grateful for the overwhelming support they've received from the community and from law enforcement officers across the state.
But the officers also had praise for Jackson.
"Officer Jackson made a very courageous move to go in and grab the lighter, try to grab the lighter out of his hand," McKinnon said.
"He’s a hero," echoed Turner.4 comments on this story
"Like I stated before, my job is to protect lives. That's what I try to go out and do every day," Jackson said while trying to downplay the praise.
"People use the word 'hero.' I just know me and my fellow officers were doing what we need to every day, to help save people. And luckily that day they got out safe. Everyone was alive," he said.
"I'm going to get better," Jackson continued. "At the end of the day we’re all alive."
The Utah Department of Health offers suicide prevention help at utahsuicideprevention.org/suicide-prevention-basic. The national crisis hotline is 1-800-784-2433.