IAFC Recognizes 2018 Ben Franklin Award for Valor Nominees

This year, the IAFC received eight nominations for the IAFC Ben Franklin Award for Valor, sponsored by Motorola Solutions. The award honors a firefighter for his or her expert training, professional service and dedication to the duty displayed in saving a human life. All of the eligible nominations were reviewed by a distinguished panel of judges selected by the IAFC; all of them are worthy of our recognition and appreciation. The winners were announced in August’s On Scene; following is a summary of the other seven nominations. Note: This article is longer than most On Scene articles.


Muskegon Heights (Michigan) Fire Department

Lieutenant John Kriger, Firefighter Steve Smith and Firefighter Tyler Kriger, son of Lieutenant John Kriger, rescued a four-year-old girl and 32-year-old woman, both unconscious, from the second floor of an apartment building that was fully engulfed in flame.

Upon arrival, heavy smoke was coming from the structure and flames were visible in the front living-room window. Lieutenant Kriger forced open the front door to conduct the primary search. Firefighters Smith and Kriger had worked to deploy and charge a 1-3/4 inch hoseline to attack the fire; they quickly entered the structure seconds behind Lieutenant Kriger. Smith quickly knocked down the fire in the living room and continued to stretch the line further into the home.

As firefighters Smith and Kriger made their way to the second floor, they passed Lieutenant Kriger who had located the little girl, who was unresponsive. Kriger carried her out of the structure and handed her off to paramedics.

On the second floor, the firefighters discovered fire in a bedroom at the top of the stairs; finding no victims, they continued to search the other bedrooms. Firefighter Kriger located woman, also unconscious. Working together, the firefighters carried the woman down the stairs and out of the apartment building to safety.

The crew then reentered the structure, extinguished the fire and searched for any additional victims.

Firefighter Smith continued rescue operations despite suffering a serious leg injury early in the response. Both rescued victims spent several days in the hospital before fully recovering from their injuries.

Lieutenant John Kriger, Firefighter Steve Smith and Firefighter Tyler Kriger were faced with an incident that would have challenged any size crew on any department. They took exceptional risks to rescue citizens from danger. The actions of this small crew of firefighters exemplify the type of selflessness and bravery that we should applaud in the fire service. — Chief Christopher Dean

DeKalb County (Georgia) Fire Rescue

On January 3, 2018, while most of the occupants of Avondale Forest slept, a fire started in Building O and grew unchecked. By the time the fire was discovered and the first 911 calls for help were being received, the fire had grown to a point where some of the residents were already trapped inside their apartments. The trapped residents retreated to their balconies, some with children, and were confronted with a three-story drop to the ground in front of them and a fast-moving fire behind them.

Ladders were immediately raised to a third-floor balcony with eight trapped residents. Captain Jovan Carter climbed the ladder and took a four-month old infant down. Captain Jackie Peckrul, who intended only to help the family onto the ladder, looked up only long enough to see the mother hold the first infant’s twin out and drop her. Making the catch, Peckrul passed the second infant to another firefighter, then climbed the ladder to help the mother and a toddler to safety.

As the fire encroached, the father, with another child tucked under his arm, climbed out to the ladder to escape the unbearable heat. As he began to descend, he locked eyes with Captain Scott Stroup on the ground and dropped the child to him. That drop-and-catch was captured on video and was widely viewed on national news.

Elsewhere, Assistant Chief Jeff Crump carried a wheelchair-bound woman to safety.

The specific members all performed under great duress to rescue victims in extraordinary fashions that displayed high levels of training, situational awareness and dedication to serve others. — Chief Darnell Fullum

Howard County (Maryland) Department of Fire and Rescue Services

On Saturday, October 21, 2017, Firefighter Zachary Means was at home after his regular shift with his wife in his apartment. They heard a commotion and went outside to find his neighbors caring for someone injured. Means determined that the individual had been shot in the face.

Firefighter Means was unaware of the shooter’s whereabouts or the circumstances of the shooting. He retrieved a gunshot care kit that he keeps in his vehicle and initiated treatment. He bandaged the facial wounds and calmed and reassured the patient while awaiting additional responders. There was a significant amount of blood and facial deformity and he managed the airway by ensuring that the patient was leaning forward and the blood wasn’t obstructing his airway.

Zach displayed bravery involving unusual personal risk beyond expectations while at home on his day off. He demonstrated unusual judgment during an emergency beyond that normally expected. — Chief John Butler

Spartanburg (South Carolina) Fire Department

In the early morning hours of December 24, 2017, the city of Spartanburg Fire Department was dispatched to a residential fire with multiple entrapments. As fire crews closed in, dispatch reports were getting worse. Five units had reports of multiple people jumping from balconies.

Westgate Engine 64 was the first-due engine company, with Lieutenant Heath Brown as the initial incident commander. Engine 64 reported a working three-story apartment fire with fire through the roof. Brown saw a female on the third story hanging from a window screaming for help. He quickly ordered one of his firefighters to deploy a 24-foot extension ladder to enable a rescue attempt.

Brown and Firefighter Julia Viznyak deployed the ladder and Brown ascended the ladder to conduct the rescue. He constantly spoke with the victim in an attempt to calm her. Upon reaching the victim, Brown removed her from the window and descended the ladder with her. At the time of the grab, he was rolling out of the open window over the victim's head.

Firefighter Grant Crocker pulled a 2.5-inch line by himself and advanced the line to protect the rescue. His efforts suppressed enough fire that he first-due rescue company was able to conduct a primary search in the affected apartment.

Engineer Travis Allison set up the engine, got water flow and assisted in the initial line placement.

All four individuals performed at the highest level as a team to effect the rescue of one of our citizens. As a result, there were no fatalities at this incident. Their efforts deserve recognition, and the bravery, heroism and composure of these four individuals cannot go unrecognized. — Chief Marion Blackwell

City of Chesapeake (Virginia) Fire Department

During the early morning hours of July 15, 2017, a severe storm front moved across the coastal region of southeast Virginia, resulting in multiple lightning strikes and fire alarms across the city of Chesapeake. At 4:35 AM, emergency units were dispatched to a report of a fire at a multi-unit, three-story residential apartment community for senior citizens.

Upon their arrival, two buildings were heavily involved in flame extending through the roof. The first arriving units immediately began aggressive search-and-rescue operations to evacuate residents, many of whom were sleeping and dependent on canes, walkers and wheelchairs.

In short order, 80 individual units were entered, and more than 150 elderly residents were rescued.

Most dramatic was Firefighter/EMT Barry Olsen's rescue via ladder of two trapped residents calling out from a window as the fire encroached into their room.

Other responders cited by their chief for their excellence during search and rescue operations include Lieutenant Ryan McFadden, Firefighter/EMT Tim Caruso, Firefighter/EMT Jason Parsons, Firefighter/EMT Chris Richardson, and Firefighter/EMT Stanley "Adam" Russell.

The bravery and heroic actions demonstrated by these firefighters on this incident epitomizes our mission 'to protect life and property,' especially considering the victims represented one of the most vulnerable population groups in the community, our senior citizens. — Chief Edmund Elliott

Phoenix (Arizona) Fire Department

On October 1, 2017, two Phoenix firefighters, Payden Yarmer and Todd Keller, were off duty and attending the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival in Las Vegas with friends and family (not together) when suddenly a man began shooting into the crowd. Both Firefighter Yarmer and Firefighter Keller stayed on the scene and rescued dozens of people.

While the shooter was taking shots at the festival crowd for more than 10 minutes, Firefighter Yarmer stayed in the crowd, dodging bullets, as he triaged victims and performed life-saving techniques, such as tourniquet application from clothing and belts, on multiple victims.

Both Payden and Todd saved dozens of lives in what was described as a combat zone while off duty. — Chief Kara Kalkbrenner

Plano (Texas) Fire-Rescue

On a warm and pleasant Saturday morning at Plano's Bug Lake Park, a car mysteriously ran a stop sign and plunged into a pond as morning runners looked on in horror. As the car sank, several witnesses began rescue attempts before emergency responders arrived.

Upon arrival, donning only their personal floatation devices, firefighters Joseph Keifer and Cody Weatherby first attempted to break a side window, but quickly noticed that the runners had successfully broken the front windshield. While this provided access to the two occupants, it also allowed the submerged car to quickly and completely fill with water.

The firefighters moved to the front of the car. Weatherby went under the surface of the water and into the car. He grabbed the elderly female occupant. He pulled her by the waist and brought her above the surface and handed her to a bystander.

Keifer was also underwater and had entered the car the same way. He was attempting to free the elderly man, but the victims’ legs were snagged in the gas and brake pedals. Keifer freed the man and pulled him out through the front windshield and to the surface.

It was later determined that the driver had experienced a medical episode that caused him to lose control of the vehicle. The victims were transported to an area hospital for treatment.

Both firefighters acted quickly and bravely, putting into practice their many hours of training. Neither firefighter hesitated to enter the water when the apparatus came to a stop at the scene. Each took only the time necessary to grab their PFD and pull them on as they ran toward the sinking vehicle, all while evaluating the scene, the citizen rescuers and scene safety. — Chief Sam Greif

The IAFC and Motorola Solutions thank each nominating chief for their submissions and salute all the first responders nominated this year for their skillful and courageous acts in saving lives.

The nomination period for 2019 Valor Award opens February 1. Check the IAFC website for details


The 2018 Valor Award winner was an emergency-response team from Clackamas Fire District #1 in Milwaukie, Oregon, whose members acted with courage and expertise to save the life of a women trapped by fire on the second floor of a single-family home.

Medals were presented at FRI’s general session on August 9 in Dallas, Texas, to:

  • Firefighter Scott Kohler
  • Firefighter Matt Towner
  • Apparatus operator Andrew Brian
  • Captain Kyle Olson

Watch the video describing the dramatic rescue


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