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Rehired Cop Dodges Flames, Rescues Children

May 1, 1987

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ A police officer dismissed 2 1/2 years ago after he was arrested in a barroom brawl, only to be rehired after he was acquitted, was a hero Friday after rescuing a family of seven from their burning home.

″I’ve seen the lowest of lows and highest of highs in this job,″ said Officer Philip Riehl Jr.

Riehl broke into the burning home Thursday and awakened a couple on the first floor. He then roused their five children on the second floor, carrying the youngest two down the stairs under his arms and through a flaming doorway.

″I feel great about it,″ Riehl, 25, said Friday. ″Everybody says hero, hero, hero. I just did what any officer would have done.″

″God sent this man to save my five children from being burned to death and to save me and my wife,″ said Derrick Edwards, the father. ″I’ve called his captain, I’ve called the mayor’s office, and I’m determined to make sure he gets a heroism award if it’s the last thing I do on earth.″

An adult living in the other half of the duplex house was slightly injured in the fire, which broke out about 2:30 a.m. after someone apparently threw a firebomb into the building, authorities said.

″We’re certainly proud of someone like him who puts his life on the line,″ said Detective Edward Tenuto, a police spokesman. ″It’s an honor to have such a brave and dedicated member of the department.″

Officer Carmen DiBona said a request for a commendation was being prepared for Riehl, who was slightly injured in the fire.

But the department was not always so proud of Riehl.

In November 1984, Riehl said, he was dismissed with one day left on a six- month probation period when he was charged with assault after a barroom brawl in New Jersey.

″I was jumped. I was trying to break up a fight,″ said Riehl. A jury agreed, finding him innocent in October 1985, he said. He was rehired later that month and given a second probationary period, after the city’s police union interceded on his behalf.

″That’s behind me,″ said Riehl, whose father is also a Philadelphia police officer. ″I just wanted my job back.″

He was on patrol Thursday when he spotted the fire in southwest Philadelphia, police said.

When he got out of the patrol car, Riehl said, the family in the other side of the duplex told him that Edwards, his wife, Myrna, and their five children were still inside.

″I didn’t really have a choice,″ Riehl said. ″There was a family in there. I did what I had to do. Any officer would have done it.

″I knew I was running into a fire and a knew I didn’t have much time. The fire was really spreading fast. I just started screaming for everybody to get out.″

Riehl woke up the parents, then went upstairs and roused the children. Michelle, 12; Jennifer, 10; and Melissa, 8, ran to safety, while Riehl picked up Derrick, 7, and Kelly, 5, under his arms.

Because the fire had spread around the doorway, Riehl said, he thought his best chance to get out was with a running start.

″I just backed up and ran full speed,″ he said. ″I thought I’d land on my feet. I landed on my knees.″

Riehl was bruised and had minor burns on his face, police said. One of the five people in the other half of the duplex was treated for smoke inhalation.

Officer Theresa Young said a bottle of flammable liquid, probably lighted, was thrown through a front window into the second family’s half of the duplex following a disturbance outside.

She said she didn’t have more details, and the incident was still being investigated Friday. No arrests had been made as of early Friday afternoon, she said.

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