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Off-duty officer rescues mother, daughter and cat from morning fire


An off-duty county police officer rescued a Millersville family and their cat yesterday from a fire that destroyed their home.

Officer William Bertram -- who works the midnight shift at the Northern District -- was on his way home at 7:30 a.m. when he noticed flames on the first floor of a two-story house in the 8200 block of Veterans Highway.

"He pulled up and called in a residential fire on his radio," said Florence Steffen, a police spokeswoman.

When Officer Bertram went to get a closer look at the blaze, a window blew out, knocking him off his feet, Ms. Steffen said.

The officer, a 10-year veteran of the force, yelled inside to see whether anyone was home. A woman came down from the second floor carrying a 2-year-old girl, Ms. Steffen said.

Lieutenant Robert Kornmann, a spokesman for the county Fire Department, identified the woman as Renee Olah and the child as her daughter.

With Ms. Olah and her daughter safely out of the building, Officer Bertram asked whether anyone else was in the two-apartment dwelling.

"No, only my cat," Ms. Olah said.

Officer Bertram told Ms. Olah to get her car away from the building while he got the cat.

He went up to Ms. Olah's second-floor apartment, which was filling with smoke, and searched for the pet.

The frightened cat eluded him several times before Officer Bertram was able to corner it in a closet. He dumped out a box of toys, put the cat in it and ran outside, Ms. Steffen said.

No one was in the first-floor apartment at the time of the blaze, Lieutenant Kornmann said.

The first fire unit to arrive at the scene found the house partially engulfed in flames, the lieutenant said. Twenty-one firefighters, three engines and two trucks had the fire under control in 16 minutes, he said.

No one was injured. The property damage came to $100,000 and the contents of the house were worth $20,000, the lieutenant said.

Lieutenant Kornmann said the fire began in the living room on the first floor. Fire investigators are still trying to determine its cause.

Lieutenant Kornmann didn't know what became of Ms. Olah and her daughter, but said that the Red Cross may have provided shelter. He also did not know what happened to the first-floor apartment's residents.

The Red Cross could not be reached for comment last night.

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