11/01/2012 at 04:55 PM EDT
When New York City Police Officer Artur Kasprzak saw Hurricane Sandy send flood waters raging through his Staten Island home around 7 p.m. Monday, he did what came naturally.
He put everyone else first. It ended up costing him his life.
After Kasprzak ushered seven of his family members – including his parents and a 15-month-old baby boy – to safety in the attic, he told his girlfriend he was going to the basement for one more look around. He never came back.
At 7:23 p.m., his girlfriend called 911 and reported him missing. A police scuba unit and emergency personnel responded immediately using Zodiac boats and jet skis but could not get close to his home due to live power lines in the water, police said.
When it was finally safe to enter the next morning, police found his body in the basement around 7 a.m. His family members all survived.
"Somehow he got trapped in his basement and he drowned," Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly told the New York Daily News
. His official cause of death has not been released.
Kasprzak, 28, was a six-year veteran of the NYPD and was assigned to the 1st Precinct in Manhattan. "He was like a poster boy for the police department: young, hard-working, in good shape, always a smile on his face," his commanding officer, Deputy Inspector Edward Winski, tells PEOPLE. "Above average as far as his police work. He was well-liked by everyone in the precinct."
Kasprzak's best friend, Tommy Krol, told the Daily News
he arrived at his friend's house early Tuesday morning with pumps and a generator he brought from his home in New Jersey – only to be told he was too late.
As for why Kasprzak returned to his basement as the home flooded, "I spoke to the investigators at the scene in Staten Island and from their interviews, it was because he wanted to make sure he didn’t leave anyone behind," says Winski. "It was a hectic situation."
"I met with his parents and his sister today," adds the commanding officer. "They’re going through the loss of their son, their brother, and then add to that the loss of their house, all their belongings [while] trying to make arrangements for a wake and a funeral."
When they pay their respects to the fallen officer, the NYPD will likely remember his great attitude.
"He never complained about anything – long days; difficult assignments," says Winski. "It's just the type of person he was."
"He always had a smile on his face. He loved being a cop."
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