When Constable Zoran Ivkovic heard the fire call for a child trapped inside a second-floor apartment, he did the same as all nearby emergency responders. He rushed to the scene.
After running into the 230 Lake Promenade building where the fire alarm blared a warning for residents to flee, he was confronted by black smoke filling the second-floor hallway – visibility so low he couldn’t distinguish apartment numbers.
The heat and smoke drove Ivkovic to the ground, forcing him to make his way forward, slowly, in a crouching position, banging on doors and yelling for people to get out. “Toronto Police, there’s a fire, get out now,” yelled the officer as he passed each door.
The further he grappled his way down the hall, the smoke got thicker, visibility decreased and the temperature hotter and hotter.
While Ivkovic was making his way down a dark hall closer to the source of the fire, fibre optics technician Fred Rolston was working at an apartment building adjacent to 230 Lake Promenade. He walked to the parking lot to get some equipment from his van and heard people screaming.
Rolston looked up and, about 200 metres away from him, he saw people stranded on a second-floor balcony as smoke billowed out of the windows of the apartment.
“There was black smoke coming out of the windows and balcony door,” said the Bell technician. “I was going to grab my fire extinguisher and run there, but I saw someone jump down from the balcony.”
Rolston realized the family on the balcony was probably trapped, so he grabbed his 28-foot-ladder and ran towards the building. He propped the ladder against the second-floor railing of the apartment, and was steadying it when Constables Marland Thompson and Manny Sangha arrived at the scene.
The two constables were at Brown’s Line and Lake Shore Blvd. when they got the radio call and had arrived in under a minute.
“When we got there, we could hear the mother screaming ‘my son is inside,’” said Thompson, who could see the ladder propped up by Rolston and black smoke and flames above. By this time, the mother and her six-year-old child were safely on the ground, while two men, along with a 15-month-old baby, were still on the balcony.
While the mother cried hysterically for her child trapped inside, the two officers scaled the ladder as quickly as possible.
The two men on the balcony were in shock, according to Sangha. “Both men were crying, they were in total shock,” he said. With the assistance of neighbours and Rolston on the ground floor, the officers got the men and baby down quickly but knew they had to go in and rescue the child inside.
“When we get information that there is a child inside, that is the only thing that we have on our mind,” said Sangha, about not waiting for the fire department. “We had to do everything we could to get to him.”
While Thompson smashed in the balcony door and window where the parquet floor was being enveloped in flames, Sangha, on the right side of the balcony, smashed another window where dark clouds of smoke were building.
“I couldn’t see much beyond the window sill,” said the Constable, who could see only clothing scattered, a messy room, then darkness. On the other side of the balcony, Thompson could feel the heat of the flames on his arms and face. But he could hear something too. “I thought it was the boy,” said the officer.
It’s just part of my job. I’m not going to hesitate when someone is in danger, and I’m going to do whatever I can. I have a child and I would hope someone would do the same for my kid if something like that happened
It wasn’t the boy, it was Ivkovic who had managed to find the right apartment and gotten in. While crawling down the hall and unable to see apartment numbers, Ivkovic had reached the middle of the hall and felt extreme heat in front of a door. “It was unlocked. I pushed it open.”
Ahead to his left, he saw flames getting higher and, to his right, a hall. “I took a few steps inside and heard a low moan,” recalls Ivkovic. He turned around and couldn’t see anything in the apartment, just the bright orange flames and black smoke. Using his flashlight for visibility, he turned to his right and saw a child slumped against the wall of the hallway. The child’s skin was burned but he was alive.
“I just grabbed him and pulled him close to me,” said the officer, who crawled his way out of the apartment but kept yelling in case there were survivors inside. “Anyone else in the apartment, walk towards my voice.” On the other side, he heard some voices call back. “They were saying ‘walk towards us.’” Ivkovic thought it must have been the firefighters on the balcony. “Okay, the apartment must be clear,” thought Ivkovic, assured by the voices as he picked up the child and began crawling out. “The kid wasn’t in good shape; he needed to get medical attention right away,” said the officer.
About four minutes had passed since the officers had arrived, and five since Rolston got his ladder. The firefighters arrived at the scene, and used Rolston’s ladder to get up to the balcony.
It was at that point, from the second floor looking down, that Thompson saw something from the corner of his eye, “It was Zoran, covered all in black (soot) running out with the kid in his arms… it was like out of the movies.”
Ivkovic, with the boy in his arms, decided to exit from the side entrance since he knew that emergency personnel were there. “The whole time I was talking to him, I was saying ‘don’t worry it’s going to be okay, we’re going to get you out.’”
Once outside, he took the child up to the truck where the firefighters quickly tended to the boy, pouring saline on him. As they took care of the boy, Ivkovic sat near the child’s feet and comforted him. “I could see his feet and hands were burned, there was blood from his feet… it was intense,” recalls the officer.
Paramedics had arrived and Ivkovic was given some oxygen as he was coughing up soot.
Thompson added that, while he was relieved the child was alive, he still felt upset because the child was in pain. But more work had to be done.
The two officers got back to work, identifying the family and the victims and taking people to the hospital. “It is difficult to answer what happened. There are a lot of things going on at the scene and we move on to the next thing to do,” explained Sangha.
The boy is still in hospital recovering from significant injuries.
Meanwhile, Ivkovic was taken to the hospital and discharged later in the day. As he thought about what had occurred, he didn’t think he had done anything special.
“I’m just glad I got him out and I hope he will make a full recovery,” said the officer. “It’s just part of my job. I’m not going to hesitate when someone is in danger, and I’m going to do whatever I can. I have a child and I would hope someone would do the same for my kid if something like that happened.”