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Veteran Reading police officer badly burned in house fire

By Ryan Hughes, Reporter, RHughes@wfmz.com
Published On: Nov 11 2013 11:14:45 AM CST
Updated On: Nov 11 2013 04:47:35 PM CST

A veteran police officer was badly burned while trying to put out a fire inside his own home, officials said.

READING, Pa. -

A veteran police officer, who normally spends his days protecting others, was badly burned trying to save his own home.

Firefighters were dispatched around 8 p.m. Sunday to the 600 block of South 18th Street in Reading.

"Flames were all the way up inside the trees. You could feel the heat coming off the house and everything else," said Scott Hiester, who lives across the street.

George Gonzalez was in the shower when the fire started. Gonzalez, who has been a Reading police officer for at least 20 years, tried to extinguish the flames, suffering 2nd and 3rd degree burns in the process, officials said.

Daylight on Monday showed the aftermath of the fire. Windows were left boarded up, and a green tarp covered the right side of the house.

Hiester saw the fire and immediately sprung into action. He ran to get a 25-pound fire extinguisher to battle the blaze, but he said the flames were just too much.

"It was too big. There were flames coming out the front of the house probably 10 feet long and high. There was nothing I could do with a fire extinguisher," Hiester said.

"I was watching TV when I hear something go boom, and I went outside," said Nancy Garzon, who lives on the same street.

The fire started on the first floor and was accidentally sparked by a portable heater, said fire officials.

"You see the little house that burned, he made it, he made it by himself," said Garzon, who added Gonzalez just finished building an addition onto his home.

Gonzalez was last reported to be in critical condition at Lehigh Valley Hospital, near Allentown. His cat, Gator, didn't make it out alive, but an iguana did survive.

Crews had the fire under control in 20 minutes time, but officials said damage is estimated at $65,000.

"I'm willing to help him out, take care of it and get his house back together. It has heat and smoke damage, but other than that it's rebuildable," said Hiester.

The Fraternal Order of Police and the Michael H. Wise II Memorial Foundation will make a monetary donation to help get Gonzalez back on his feet, said officials.

The fire was ruled an accident, but fire officials are stressing the importance of fire safety, especially as temperatures get set to tumble. They urge residents to be warm and safe this winter by following these tips:

1) Keep anything that can burn at least three-feet away from heating equipment.

2) Have a three-foot "kid-free zone" around open fires and space heaters.

3) Never use your oven to heat your home.

4) Have heating equipment and chimneys cleaned and inspected every year by a qualified professional.

5) Remember to turn portable heaters off when leaving the room or going to bed.

6) Always use the right kind of fuel, specified by the manufacturer, for fuel burning space heaters.

7) Make sure the fireplace has a sturdy screen to stop sparks from flying into the room. Ashes should be cool before putting them in a metal container. Keep the container a safe distance away from your home.

8) Test smoke alarms monthly.