Man who rescued Philly cop as a teen becomes a cop himself

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When City Council honored Joe Chambers in 2014 for rescuing a Philadelphia police officer from a burning cruiser in South Philadelphia before it exploded, the 17-year-old urged other young people to put down their phones and pick up on their instincts.

“That’s the problem with young kids nowadays, they like to videotape,” Chambers said then. “Just act, instead of watch.”

Chambers has heeded his own advice. This month he was sworn in as a part-time police officer in Ridley Park Borough, and last June he was sworn in as a part-time officer in Folcroft. Now Chambers – who at 20 is still not legally old enough to drink – splits his time between both departments and his volunteer job as a firefighter for Leedom Fire Company in Ridley Park.

This summer, Chambers will take on another important role: He will serve as a groomsman at the wedding of the officer whose life he saved.

“I like to help people,” Chambers said. “I love to be there when people are at their worst and their best.”

Chambers was a teenage volunteer firefighter visiting his sister on Nov 8, 2014, when around 5:30 p.m. he heard a loud crash. Just outside the door, at 28th and Tasker Streets in Grays Ferry, he spotted a damaged police cruiser sparking and leaking fluids.

A man in a pickup truck had struck Oficer Mark Kimsey’s cruiser as Kimsey was responding to a priority call. Kimsey was trapped inside his patrol car.

Chambers, then a senior at Ridley High, ran to the cruiser. When he got to the car, the hood and undercarriage caught fire. Kimsey, 30, was losing consciousness and his door wouldn’t budge.

Chambers looked to the people standing around watching, and yelled for someone to help him. Dante Johnson, 24, answered his call and the two pulled Kimsey out of the cruiser through the driver’s side window just before the car burst into flames.

The two men have stayed in touch. Following the incident, Chambers was hailed as a hero by everyone from police to City Council to television host Ellen DeGeneres, who had Chambers and Kimsey on her show.

So when Chambers – who put himself through the Delaware County Police Academy – applied to the Folcroft Police Department last year, Chief Robert Ruskowski recognized the name.

“He was young, but that really wasn’t the issue,” Ruskowski said. “I thought, if anybody deserves a break, it’s him. He’s obviously not afraid to get his feet wet.”

Three days after Chambers joined Folcroft Police as a part-time officer, his fellow Folcroft officer, Christopher Dorman, 25, was shot seven times while responding to a drug activity call. Dorman survived the shooting and has returned to work.

“That was kind of like a big wake-up call to all of us,” Chambers said, noting that it solidified his commitment to policing. “The bond these guys had with each other was unbreakable. That’s the type of family I want to be in. I’m surrounded by guys who pick each other up when they fall instead of sitting there watching.”

Because the Folcroft job is part-time, Chambers needed to supplement his income and could think of no better moonlighting gig than another policing job.

Ridley Park Police Chief Robert M. Frazier said it was an easy decision to bring Chambers, “one of our kids in the neighborhood,” onto his force this month.

“He has a great reputation, that’s why we hired him,” Frazier said. “We always look for people that will go through a door instead of out of a door.”

Now that Chambers has two jobs, he doesn’t get to see as much of Kimsey, whom he calls “the brother that I never had.” But he’s looking forward to serving as a groomsman in Kimsey’s wedding this summer, and perhaps one day serving beside him in the Philadelphia Police Department.

Chambers said something in him just pushes him to run toward danger, instead of away from it.

“If it’s life or death, I don’t want to sit and watch another person die because I have a fear of dying too,” he said. “It’s all about being there for those you don’t know – and for those you do know.”

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1 Philadelphia

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