The police officer who used his hands to put out a fire on a woman outside a north Wichita restaurant last week said he was in the "right place at the right time."
Officer Alex Bieler was in between calls at around 9 p.m. on May 11, driving south on Jackson when he turned west on 21st Street North. Then, at Rostizeria Los Reyes at 512 W. 21st, the side door of the restaurant opened.
"I saw what looked like either a person or someone carrying a big ball of fire, and I saw fire coming out of the restaurant," Bieler said on Thursday. "I slowed down and I took a second look, and I realized it was a person on fire."
So he pulled up and ran to help the woman.
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"I really wasn't sure what I was going to do," Bieler said. "I probably could have thought it through better, but I just ran up to her and started patting her down. I started on her head and it went out when I started patting down her head, so I just kept going."
He patted her down from head to toe, Bieler said. Once the flames were out, the woman said her sister was still inside the restaurant.
The side door closed and locked behind the woman when she ran out, so Bieler ran around to the front, which was also locked. Realizing it was a glass door, he got a heavier baton from his patrol car and smashed his way in.
He heard someone in the kitchen; the woman there had already extinguished the fire burning on her.
The women, ages 51 and 57, were taken to a hospital, where they are still in critical condition. Police have not identified the women. They had second-degree and third-degree burns throughout their bodies, Wichita Fire Department Lt. Jose Ocadiz said on Monday.
The police officer was released from the hospital the same night with injuries to his hands, Ocadiz said.
Bieler called it, "Really, really minor (injuries)." Doctors told him he had second-degree burns, and he had to wrap his hands with ointment pads until the blisters went away.
He returned to work Wednesday.
"Through the Officer’s quick actions, bravery, and heroism, two lives were saved, and additional property damage was prevented," Officer Charley Davidson said in a Saturday release.
Ocadiz previously said that the two hospitalized women were unable to speak, so fire investigators had not been able to talk to them about what happened before Bieler got there. The fire appeared to have started near the stove area of the kitchen, but the case remains open.
The fire did not spread throughout the restaurant, Ocadiz said. The women were both employees of the restaurant, which had closed for the night, and were possibly cleaning.
"I want to thank the officer who helped my mom and aunt," a family member of the women said in a Facebook post. "He is an angel sent from above. God placed this man in our mother's and aunt path at the right time. I can't imagine what could of been of them if he was not there."
Bieler, 25, graduated from the academy in December 2016. He has not spoken with the family, but said he is praying for the women.
"I don't really think coincidences or chances just happen," Bieler said. "I would say maybe God put me at the right place at the right time. I'm glad that I was there."