Officer who rescued Beach Park couple, nurse, 'a real hero every day'
SOUTH TAMPA -
The smell of smoke lingers at the house at 407 S. Shore Crest Drive.
The front door and windows are boarded, and the floor of the porch is all but burned away. Some shrubbery is charred and shriveled because of its proximity to flames that almost engulfed the entire house.
When Mike Simpson saw the fire, it just had begun spreading to the roof, he said.
He swears it was an act of fate that enabled him to report the fire as quickly as he did, before he rushed into the burning home to rescue the elderly couple and a hospice nurse who live there. He just was doing his job, he said. This was his third burning building, after all.
The Beach Park Neighborhood Association honored Simpson, coordinator of the neighborhood's security patrol and a retired police officer, at a meeting Tuesday night. Tampa police chief Jane Castor was there to shake Simpson's hand after he received a plaque thanking him for risking his life in the line of duty.
“Mike's a real hero every day,” said Joel Williams, president of the neighborhood association.
Simpson has been coordinator of the affluent Beach Park neighborhood's security patrol for about nine years. He retired after 30 years as an officer with the Tampa Police Department and now serves as a reserve officer. He picks up extra-duty hours as a member of the Beach Park security team.
Many of the neighborhood's residents travel a lot, either for business or pleasure, Williams said. He formed the neighborhood watch program about 14 years ago when association members decided Beach Park needed more security than the Tampa Police Department could provide.
The security officers are armed and patrol the neighborhood in cars, running license-plate tags on suspicious vehicles and checking on homes when the owners are away. What the patrolmen don't catch, the surveillance cameras on most of the houses often do.
“It really is about additional support to our neighbors that we know the city can't provide,” Williams said.
Simpson wasn't supposed to be on duty on Wednesday, April 17, but another officer had called in at the last minute to say he couldn't work that night. So Simpson picked up his shift.
He had stopped to investigate a car he didn't recognize, parked in a city right of way, when he smelled the smoke.
“Good cops have a sixth sense,” the security officer said. Simpson's told him the smoke wasn't just burning leaves or refuse. “That's not good,” he thought. “This is not a good fire.”
He turned the corner at Shore Crest and Neptune and saw the flames.
He called in the fire to a dispatcher and left his sirens running as he darted in a side door. He has known the couple for years and routinely checks their house when they go out of town.
Simpson knew the man was in a wheelchair and had an oxygen tank, and he had to get him and his wife out of the house fast. Luckily the couple was awake later than usual because the man wanted to check something on a computer.
Simpson packed the couple and the nurse into the house's elevator, and then escorted them down to the garage and out of the house.
Lastly, he snapped a photograph of the fire as the emergency responders arrived. The photo appeared in local newspapers the following day.
Simpson calls the Beach Park security patrol the “jewel” of neighborhood watches -- and not just because he helps lead it.
Members of the homeowners association who pay an extra fee to be on the patrol list are given a private number to reach the on-duty patrolman. That patrolman checks their houses to make sure things are secure and there are no obvious signs – such as newspapers in a driveway – indicating the owners aren't home.
The homeowners are put on a roster that lists where they are going, when they will return and a contact number in case of an emergency.
Williams said almost half of Beach Park's 1,100 residents pay for the service. He meets with Simpson every few weeks to review what's happening in the neighborhood and what the patrol has been watching.
Thanks to the watch, car thieves have been put in jail and residents with health problems have been able to make it to the hospital, Williams said. The officers also report things such as blown street lights and broken waterlines.
“A lot of effort goes into this neighborhood watch,” Simpson said.
And the officer on duty in the neighborhood is available to help city police officers if needed. Simpson said he listens to his radio and checks in with officers making traffic stops or responding to alarms at nearby businesses.
The security patrol just helps improve the comfort and quality of life in the neighborhood, Simpson said.
“Can we make this a 100-percent, crime-free utopia? No, no neighborhood is,” he said. “But can we make it the ultimate place to live? Yeah, we can do that.”