Milwaukee Police Officer Guadalupe Ramirez-Cervantes was on patrol for stolen cars in early October of last year when he smelled smoke.
That night, he was patrolling with his friend, Officer Jose Acevedo, on Milwaukee's south side. With no fire rescue training, the pair followed the smell to find a home engulfed in flames.
No 911 calls had been made. The fire department wasn't on its way.
A few people were "jumping up and down hysterically on the porch yelling, 'My baby, my baby, she's still inside,'" Ramirez-Cervantes told The Huffington Post.
Ramirez-Cervantes, who migrated to the United States from Mexico with his parents as a young boy, became a U.S. citizen at the age of 18. A few years later, he entered the Milwaukee Police Department (MPD) academy, where he met Acevedo. The two graduated in the same class and became close over a shared heritage of sorts.
"He's Mexican and I'm Puerto Rican, so you know, we're always joking around together about that kind of stuff," Acevedo said to The Huffington Post.
Ramirez-Cervantes can't recall if his father, who worked as a dishwasher in Chicago for many years, brought him to the country with legal documents. Ramirez-Cervantes was too young to remember, he says.
In short-sleeved, MPD-issued button-ups, the two cops approached the burning house and discovered there was a 2-year-old girl still inside.
"Right away my own little girl popped into my head. 'How would I feel if I were in this woman's position?' I thought to myself," Ramirez-Cervantes said. "But I'm standing there, and I'm like, 'Oh man, that's really hot, am I gonna do this?'"
Next, he wrapped his face in a towel he found nearby, and made his way into the house on all fours to feel around for the child who he was told was still in the building.
"They don't teach you anything about how to run into fire at the academy," he said.
Blinded by the smoke and hot air around him, and still in short sleeves, Ramirez-Cervantes felt his way to the kitchen.
"I started feeling around and I felt a leg and it was the little girl. I picked her up," he said. But Ramirez-Cervantes soon realized he had no idea how to escape and wasn't sure which direction he had entered from.
"Then Jose started yelling, 'Bro, where are you? Bro, where are you?' And I followed his voice 'til I made it out."
Ramirez-Cervantes collapsed in the yard, his lungs filled with smoke. Acevedo took the little girl from his partner's arms -- she was badly burned and wasn't breathing.
"When Guadalupe gave her to me, I thought she was gone. I didn't hear her breathing," Acevedo said. "But I started doing chest compressions how we were taught."
It was the first time Acevedo had performed CPR on a real person. After about two minutes of compressions, the little girl started to breath. "It was a miracle, that's all I can say," Acevedo told The Huffington Post.
The 2-year-old suffered third-degree burns on 50 percent of her body, according to the two officers. But she's alive, and has recently started talking again.
Two bodies were found in the building, in the same room in which a heater malfunction occurred, according to Acevedo. Both officers were treated for smoke inhalation on site. And although Ramirez-Cervantes wasn't seriously injured, he sustained what he describes as a "terrible sunburn" from the fire.
"We went in there with no equipment, no nothing, and we did our best," Acevedo said.
The Red Cross in Southeastern Wisconsin awarded Ramirez-Cervantes this year's American Red Cross Brave Heart Award in April. Despite their bravery, both men reject being categorized as heros.
"By no means am I a hero," Ramirez-Cervantes said. "I always tell everyone I just took an oath to protect and I was just fulfilling my oath."
WATCH: Guadalupe Ramirez-Cervantes Tells His Story
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