AKRON, Ohio — As far back as he can recall, Akron Police Officer Aaron Williams has felt a calling to help people.
In fact, Williams expressed that sentiment in March while at the Akron Police academy. During that time, he also shared his inspirational journey of losing about 100 pounds to pursue a dream career in law enforcement.
"Even from a young age, my mom always told me I had a protective nature about me," Williams said.
That protective nature was on full display on November 25 — with just three months on the job — when Williams found himself as the first responder on the scene while smoke poured from a home in Akron, Ohio, around 3:15 a.m.
The emergency was ramped up when neighbors reported that residents were inside the burning home: 91-year-old Lorene Sampson, who is bedridden, and her 70-year-old son, Willie O'Neal.
"I'm running up full sprint and I'm hearing all this, and at the same time, I'm like there's somebody in there. The least I can do is try to kick this door in," Williams said.
After kicking in the front door, Williams realized the senior citizen, who was unable able to walk, was on a bed, but he couldn't see her through the thick smoke.
However, the sound of her voice provided all the motivation he needed to not give up on the rescue.
"I kicked in the door an I'm yelling, 'Is anybody in the house?' And I hear, "I'm right her, babe,'" Williams recalled. "At that time, I didn't know she couldn't walk."
Without any protective gear that firefighters wear, the officer said he went in and out of the house two or three times. He remembers coughing and crawling until he made his way toward Sampson.
A short time later, two paramedics, also not wearing gear, appeared in the smoke-filled house and the trio worked together to carry the senior citizen to safety.
"They ended up grabbing her and we all like kind of pulled each other like, 'Go, go, go, go, go' to run out of the house," Williams said.
After the first rescue, firefighters raced upstairs and saved O'Neal from a bedroom.
Sampson was taken to Cleveland Clinic Akron General. O'Neal was transported to the burn unit at Akron Children's Hospital.
Both remained hospitalized as of Thursday evening, but are expected to recover, according to Stephanie Muhammad, who is Sampson's daughter and O'Neal's sister.
Muhammad said the actions of Williams and the other first responders were heroic.
"This young man, Aaron Williams, is a hero. He's a hero because he didn't have to do that. He could have waited for the fire department, but he didn't," Muhammad said.
Muhammad, who lives in Phoenix, had a brief but emotional conversation with Williams via video chat on Wednesday.
"God sent you to my family, and I take it personally. He sent you to me. You saved my mother," Muhammad said.
The rookie officer said returning to the scene and talking about what happened was nearly as emotional as the morning of the dramatic rescue. However, he doesn't consider himself a hero, rather a police officer with a protective nature doing his job.
"We're always here to help people. I don't think it's necessarily heroic," he said. "If there's somebody that can be saved, you at least gotta try."
This article was written by Bob Jones for WEWS.