The ABC Network recently featured Northampton Community College (NCC) alum and Palmer Township police officer, Maurice Burton, in an episode of Hearts of Heroes. The program, which aired this summer, described how Burton, his Palmer Township police squad, and local firefighters rescued a young man trapped in a burning car in May 2022.
Burton recalls that it was a warm, clear and routine night. He and his evening-shift colleagues had just ordered Chinese food for dinner when, at about 9 p.m., the police dispatcher announced, “We have a two-vehicle MVA (motor vehicle accident) near the intersection of Main Street and Van Buren Road. Unknown injuries. Multiple calls received. Will get more details.” A few minutes later, they heard that not only was one of the cars on fire, but the driver was still in the car.
“We all ran to our cruisers, and like a train with one car immediately behind the other, we raced to the scene as fast as we could,” Burton said. “When we arrived, we saw a red Volkswagen Jetta had collided with a dark-colored Mercedes SUV. A red glow radiated from underneath the Jetta.”
The accident investigation would reveal the Jetta was traveling at 120 miles per hour (mph) one second before impact. As the road went from four to two lanes, the Jetta driver lost control and traveled into the eastbound lane, hitting the SUV head-on. The car slid off the road. Embedded into a bank, the driver’s door would not open.
When Burton arrived, his fellow officer who arrived before him was attempting to put out the fire with an extinguisher. Another officer grabbed a Halligan bar, a crowbar-like tool, from his cruiser, and Burton, along with the rest of the officers, tried to pry open the passenger side door. But the crash’s impact jammed the door shut.
Minutes later, two firefighters arrived in their personal vehicles. They loosened the dirt from the bank and managed to pry the door open enough to allow one of them to slide in. Between the heavy smoke that filled the car and the darkness of night, the officers couldn’t determine if the driver was breathing. He hadn’t made a sound.
“Two thoughts kept rotating in my head,” Burton said. “Is he still breathing, and is the car going to explode?” While attempting to rescue the driver, the fire had first come through the steering column, then was visible on the floorboards and was licking the ceiling and dashboard at the top and bottom of the windshield. The fire truck had not yet arrived.
The first responders were finally able to pull the driver out and onto a stretcher. The young man moaned, confirming he was alive. They loaded him into the awaiting ambulance as quickly as possible.
“We all thought he wouldn’t come out of it, or if he survived, he wouldn’t have a good quality of life,” Burton said. Little by little, however, the driver improved. The young man could not speak or walk when he regained consciousness. But later, he walked with a walker, then, a cane. “Recently, an officer saw him and reported that he had recovered almost completely.”
Burton entered law enforcement because he wanted to help people, and the rescue affirmed his decision – a lifelong dream. As a child, he had seen The Fugitive, and Burton wanted to be a U.S. Marshal like Tommy Lee Jones’ character in the movie.
In 2006, he enrolled in NCC’s criminal justice program, attending part-time and working. He graduated in 2011 and applied for various jobs, but his battle with colon cancer thwarted his efforts. While waiting for medical clearance to work as an officer, he enrolled in Lackawanna College’s Police Academy to receive the Act 120 certification required by many police departments. He found the certification process relatively easy due to what he had learned at NCC.
Running late for his son’s baseball game one day, he wore his police academy uniform to the game. Another father at the game told Burton he was a Palmer Township police officer, and the municipality had an opening. Burton applied, and the township hired him.
Since then, Burton has continued developing his skills and is now the defensive tactic instructor. He has obtained accreditation in accident reconstruction and taser instruction. Burton encourages everyone to pursue their career dreams despite obstacles.
“I’m so glad that I didn’t let setbacks deter me from becoming a police officer,” he said. “I will continue to educate myself and grow in this profession.”