Fresno police officer Matthew Besoyan knocked on the door and window of a southwest Fresno home. Then he knocked again, and then once more, with growing urgency.
It was 3 a.m. Tuesday, the Fourth of July. The home in the 100 block of Eden Avenue was on fire, and he needed to get residents out.
“I knocked, knocked, knocked on the window, yelled out (but) I didn’t get any response,” Besoyan said. “The fire was starting to grow.”
That morning’s fire was the first that the Fresno fire department would respond to. Several fires that day, mostly grass fires, overwhelmed the department by the end of the night.
Besoyan was patrolling the southwest neighborhood because it’s one with a high rate of gang activity. A call came in about a burned vehicle about six streets north of his location, noting a suspect had traveled south toward where he was. He hadn’t spotted any suspects in the area. But something else caught his attention.
“There was smoke in the area, and I thought ‘this is kind of far for that car fire,’ and that was when I looked to my left and saw there was actually flames on the west side of the house,” Besoyan said.
It was go time.
When there was no response to his knocking, Besoyan went to his patrol car for his tool box. The home had a screen door that would likely need to be pried open.
When he returned to the door, a man was looking out the window.
“I said, ‘I’m Fresno police, you’ve got to come out, your house is on fire,’ ” Besoyan told the man. “He said ‘really?’ ”
The man came out with his 5-year-old son and wife, who tried to put out the fire with a garden hose but was unsuccessful.
Any other officer that works here would have done the same thing.
Officer Matthew Besoyan
Sgt. Jason Amarante arrived and kept watch on the family as Besoyan sped off to a neighbor’s home, where fire had consumed the wooden fence and was getting dangerously close to the home.
When he knocked on a window, a woman appeared and said “you’re kidding” when Besoyan told her about the growing fire.
Besoyan wasn’t kidding. And despite trying to put the fire out with an extinguisher from his tool box, “the fire had grown, it was already past the point to where I could have contained it,” he said.
Next door, the woman, a young man and an elderly grandmother exited the home, holding a few belongings they had grabbed on the way out, Besoyan said.
Meanwhile, Besoyan had called for help over his radio. Within minutes, firefighters arrived and extinguished the flames.
The cause of the fire was not determined that night. The home itself was not equipped with smoke detectors, Besoyan said. He learned later that the family had only been living there for three months.
The fire was contained to the west side of the home. The garage roof was charred and the surface of the walls around it blackened. Once he was able to go into the home after firefighters extinguished the flames, Besoyan noticed partial smoke inside. But the family didn’t have to go back inside to sleep – the Red Cross found them temporary housing.
Besoyan said he was thankful he was in the area on that early morning. Although there are nights “where everything goes crazy,” he said 3 a.m. is typically a quiet time. And he called the experience a unique one because “usually the family is aware of (the fire), so that was a first,” he said.
He added that the only thing in his mind during the incident was to make sure people were safe.
Amarante has no doubts the fast response by Besoyan, and later the fire department, helped save lives and property. “He did what he was supposed to do and everything kind of fell in line,” Amarante said.
Besoyan knows others may make it seem like he saved the family, but he said his actions are part of what he needs to do any day on the job. After all, he said, police officers are usually the first to arrive to incidents, big or small.
As for stepping in when flames threatened a sleeping family, Besoyan said, “Any other officer that works here would have done the same thing.”