Nearly two decades after he saved the life of a 5-year-old girl pulled out of a burning apartment, retired police detective Peter Getz watched with a father’s pride as she graduated from college with honors this week.
"I kind of choked up after getting her graduation invitation," Getz told InsideEdition.com. "She did really good."
Life has not always been kind to Josi Aponte, now 23.
In 1998, her Connecticut apartment caught fire. Her mother was at work, and the 5-year-old was in the care of her older cousin.
The home was "fully engulfed. There was black, thick smoke. The firefighters had about a three-foot clearance to crawl under," Getz recounted. Both Josi and her cousin were unconscious. Getz and his partner were standing outside, there to provide whatever help the Hartford Fire Department needed.
A fireman emerged with little Josi, who was severely burned and covered in soot and ash. “There was no ambulance available,” Getz remembered. So, he scooped Josi into his arms and yelled to his partner, "You drive!"
As they rushed to a nearby hospital, Getz performed CPR on Josi, who was in full cardiac arrest. When they pulled up to the emergency room, the child’s condition had stabilized.
Her cousin was not as fortunate. He was taken to a burn center, where 10 days later, he died from his injuries.
Getz and his partner went to see Josi the next day and brought her a teddy bear. And unbeknownst to her, he checked in on her as she attended school, using his connections with community youth programs.
He was ready to offer help if she and her mother needed it, he said, or to intervene if the girl got into trouble. He never had to do either.
Two years ago, while she was attending Eastern Connecticut State University, Josi Googled herself and found a news photo of her — at age 5 — being carried to safety by Getz. She found him on the Internet, and sent him an email.
Getz said he was "blown away," and the two became friends. They have lunch and exchange Christmas cards. And when she graduated this week magna cum laude, Getz was sitting with her mother and her aunt.
"He saved me and he's just walking out with me in his arms and I'm so grateful for him because we always call him my guardian angel," Aponte told WFSB-TV this week.
That photo, posted on the Hartford Police Department’s Facebook page as a throw-back Thursday item, resulted in a deluge of media calls to Getz’s cell phone.
“It’s mind-boggling,” Getz said. He didn’t get this much media attention after the 1998 fire, even though his photo was in the local paper. He doesn’t give it much thought, though.
“It’s not about me, it’s about the kid,” he said.
He has a daughter about the same age as Josi, he said. And that’s the way he thinks about the girl he rescued all those years ago — protective and proud.
“She has gone through a lot in her 23 years on this Earth,” he said.