In 2019, the IAFC received seven 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.
This year’s winner was David Hawks, CAL FIRE Butte Unit Chief and Butte County Fire Chief, who was recognized for his courageous efforts during the devastating “Camp Fire,” which largely destroyed the town of Paradise, California, in 2018.
Chief Dan Eggleston, 2018-2019 IAFC president, and Motorola Solutions presented the Ben Franklin Award for Valor to Chief Hawks during Fire-Rescue International’s general session on August 8 in Atlanta, Georgia. Watch the video describing the incident.
In 2019, six other eligible nominations were received and reviewed by a distinguished panel of judges selected by the IAFC. All are worthy of our recognition and appreciation. Below is a summary of the nominations.
Fairfax County (Virginia) Fire and Rescue Department
Lieutenant Edward Payne
Lieutenant Mark Fernandez
Master Technician Joshua Morrison
Master Technician Robert Pickel
Fire Medic Robert Elam
On June 20, 2018, Lieutenant Edward Payne was off duty when he came upon a motor vehicle collision involving multiple vehicles on fire, including a tractor-trailer and a boom truck on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. Three workers were stranded in the bucket of the boom truck suspended 50 feet below the inner and outer loop bridges with no way out. Lieutenant Payne, positioned on the outer loop, assessed the situation, created a rescue plan, and managed rescue efforts from his location. Lt. Mark Fernandez, Master Technician Joshua Morrison, Master Technician Robert Pickel, and Fire Medic Robert Elam were on duty and responded to the inner loop.
Heat and smoke from the vehicles on fire and a running fuel fire impeded their rescue attempts. Lieutenant Fernandez oversaw the rescue from the inner loop. He directed Morrison, Pickel, and Elam to anchor ropes to the bridge and lower the ropes to the workers. This had to be done quickly because the fire was growing and impinging on the arm of the boom truck.
Fearing that the boom would fail and drop the bucket and workers into the river, Lt. Fernandez ordered the workers to be lowered into a Prince George’s (Maryland) police boat. Due to the height of the bridge railing and bridge sidewall, there was no suitable anchor available. Fire Medic Elam used the built-in harness on his self-contained breathing apparatus and became a human anchor.
Master Technician Pickel and Master Technician Morrison helped anchor Elam, who was in a seated position attached to the rope, by holding down his shoulders and legs. Lt. Fernandez kept watch of the victims and called the rope commands. Fire Medic Elam quickly lowered the victims down an additional fifty feet into the police boat one-by-one. All three victims were safely lowered and taken to shore.
“There is no doubt that the bravery and quick actions of these men helped save the lives of the three workers,” said Fire Chief John Butler.
Dallas (Texas) Fire-Rescue Department
USAR 19 Captain Larry K. Massingill
Driver Engineer Joshua D. Mihalyi
Fire/Rescue Officer Jonathan R. Keeler
EN57 Lt. Timothy S. Dickey
On November 27, 2018, USAR 19 responded to a multi-alarm structure fire in northeast Dallas. Upon their arrival, they were instructed by the Incident Commander to function as the RIT Team. There was a rapid escalation of alarms prior to their arrival due to rapid-fire growth and evacuation of a large, three-story, lightweight, center-hallway, flat-roof apartment complex. This apartment complex had a collapse in the far Alpha/Bravo division that created a change in the environment.
Moments after USAR 19 set up for potential RIT operations, a member from EN48 announced that their company was lost on the second floor with heavy smoke and fire conditions, and a MAYDAY was declared.
Captain Larry Massingill, DE Joshua Mihalyi, and FRO Johnathan Keeler teamed up and prepared for rapid intervention. Both sides of the second floor were laddered. Captain Massingill determined that a handline would be needed to assist them in the rescue. Lt. Timothy Dickey grabbed a line and protected their egress. Under extreme smoke and fire conditions, these four members entered the hallway to search for the members of EN48.
Throughout the rescue, Captain Massingill communicated with the officer of EN48 to gain information and assure that help was on the way. These four members worked tirelessly until all three members of EN48 were located and brought to safety.
“The three members of USAR 19 along with Lt. Dickey are to be commended for their rapid, coordinated, and efficient rescue efforts. The successful rescue and extrication of the three firefighters would not have been possible without dedicated, disciplined, and well-trained members,” said Fire Chief Dominique Artis.
For more information about this incident, please watch this video.
City of Oceanside (California) Fire Department
Fire Captain Anthony Chapman
On August 22, 2018, Oceanside Fire Captain Tony Chapman visited Monastery Beach at Carmel by the Sea in the Monterey area of central California. Captain Chapman was on vacation with his family, and through a series of fateful family preferences, decided to pick a spot on the southern end of the beach to relax with his family and enjoy the ocean.
He had noticed the ocean conditions were unusual that day with steep beaches and 6- to 8-foot waves breaking onto the shore. The sand was thick and unstable. Large shore break waves surged high up the beach and rapidly down into the next waves. His background in ocean knowledge made him aware of the hazards which he shared with his children as they played at the shoreline together.
Captain Chapman and his family were sitting up the beach atop a sand berm. The steep angle of the beach blocked the visibility of the waterline. Over a conversation with his wife, Captain Chapman heard distinctive screams of a child from the water. He jumped up from his chair to look down over the berm to the water.
Captain Chapman observed a mother and father yelling for their daughters. The two girls, approximately 8- and 11-years old, were being pulled in by the heavy and rapid draw of the water. The mother frantically yelled, “Grab your sister!” Both parents struggled to stand in the surge and reach their daughters as they helplessly watched the surf take them away.
Captain Chapman instinctively responded and ran into the water in a full sprint. The mother struggled to gain footing, and the father had been turned upside down by the surf with only his feet visible as he passed. He dove under a large wave and quickly lost footing due to depth. Captain Chapman watched the two girls rise up over him in the next wave. He again dove under and extended both arms out as he surfaced, hoping he would catch them before they were thrown over the falls.
Captain Chapman made contact with each girl in his arms. He calmly reassured them and asked them to help kick back to shore. The younger girl was panicked and spitting out water while the older girl began gaining some composure. Captain Chapman struggled to keep both girls above the water without the use of his arms.
While approaching the shore, large surf picked them up and tumbled the group in the wash. Captain Chapman told himself not to let go as the force of water attempted to separate them. He feared that he would not be able to regain control of both girls if one were swept away.
He continued toward shore using the surf to help push the group in. Captain Chapman finally started to get a foothold on the bottom and make progress shoreward. During a lull in wave sets, he was able to hand the 8-year old to her mother in shallow water. Another wave came in as he attempted to hand the 11-year old to her father. Both began to be pulled out again.
Captain Chapman assisted the father and daughter closer to shore to secure footing. All exited the water without injury or medical attention. The parents with their two daughters huddled together with an understandable shock. The father had lost his pants on the shore break, trying to help. Captain Chapman remembers that this family was not dressed to go into the water and was likely just walking the beach, unaware of the hazards. A group of beach patrons had gathered with a local landscaper who offered help.
“If not for Captain Chapman’s quick intervention, and his family’s choice of a beach location, multiple drownings would have occurred. His actions also prevented would-be rescuers from falling victim to the ocean conditions that day,” Fire Chief Rock Robinson said.
South Old Bridge (New Jersey) Volunteer Fire Company
Former-Chief Robert Verney
On May 5, 2018, the South Old Bridge Volunteer Fire Company was dispatched to 100 Mimi Road, an 89-unit, three-story, age-restricted apartment complex, for a reported structure fire with possible entrapment.
Dispatch advised the sprinkler system was activated. Chief Verney arrived on the scene, established command, and gave his scene size up to incoming units. Occupants rushing out of the building told Chief Verney water was flowing down from the second floor. Having gathered the initial information and utilizing his years of firefighting experience Chief Verney, without hesitation, headed into the building and up the stairwell to division two, at the same time radioing assignments to first arriving units.
“Support the sprinkler system, let’s get lines to division two, start a primary search, establish a RIT.” When he arrived on division two, Chief Verney was faced with a smoke condition in the hallway. As he made his way down to the apartment of origin, an occupant of the building advised Chief Verney, “There is a woman still in the apartment, and she is burned up.”
“She’s on the couch, and she’s burnt bad.” Chief Verney entered the zero-visibility apartment calling out for the woman. She responded verbally, looking for help. Chief Verney followed her voice to her. He grabbed the woman under the arms and dragged her out to the hallway, where he called for EMS to administer patient care. The woman was brought to Saint Barnabas Burn Center, where she was treated for 2nd-degree burns and then went onto extensive rehabilitation. She has since made a full recovery.
“Without the swift actions and bravery of Chief Verney, there would have been a much different outcome,” said Fire Chief Michael Galvin.
Virginia Beach (Virginia) Fire Department
Firefighter Mitchell Riley
On December 18, 2018, Virginia Beach Fire Department units responded to a reported house fire with a number of occupants reportedly trapped inside.
Upon arrival, heavy fire conditions were evident in the main living area of a residential trailer. As the crew exited the apparatus and prepared for fire attack, law enforcement and bystanders said two children were trapped in a bedroom. After completing a rapid walkaround of the structure to confirm fire conditions and potential hazards, Captain Joshua Fentress met with Firefighter Mitchell Riley and Firefighter Ryan McNemar at the front of the trailer. An immediate decision was made to perform a Vent, Enter, Isolate, and Search (VEIS) of the room in an attempt to rescue the trapped children. Firefighter Riley immediately donned his personal protective equipment and entered the window of the children’s bedroom via an exterior ladder.
As the VEIS was occurring, other members of the crew deployed an exterior hose line and placed it in operation between the bulk of the fire and the bedroom that Firefighter Riley was searching.
Upon entering the children’s bedroom, Firefighter Riley was met with high heat, zero visibility, and thick black smoke. Firefighter Riley also noticed that flames had begun to show in the smoke, a sure sign of impending flashover. Firefighter Riley began searching the room with only his sense of touch. Riley was able to locate the first child in her crib and yelled out to Captain Fentress, located at the windowsill, that he was “bringing one out.” Firefighter Riley transferred the first child to Captain Fentress, who then turned the child over to Ladder 7’s crew.
Without hesitation, Firefighter Riley immediately returned to his search, starting from where he found the first child. It was then that Riley noticed the smoke had intensified in color and turbulence. He could feel the room becoming hotter and knew he had very little time before conditions would rapidly deteriorate. Captain Fentress approached the exterior window again as Firefighter Riley communicated that he had found the second child and transferred the child to Captain Fentress. Simultaneously as the child was taken out of the window, flames began to engulf the room, and Firefighter Riley performed a rapid window bail to exit the structure just in time to avoid serious injury.
Resuscitation efforts for both unresponsive children were initiated in the front yard by first responders. After an initial well-being check, Firefighter Riley doffed his Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus and selflessly began assisting with patient care.
After having endangered his own life in order to rescue the children and providing emergency medical care on the scene, Firefighter Riley went on to drive one of the ambulances to the emergency room to enable additional providers to render care in the rear of the ambulance while enroute to the hospital.
“Due to the heroic efforts of Firefighter Riley, this family survived the tragic events of that night and are continuing to recover and restore their lives,” said Battalion Chief John Keys.
The IAFC and Motorola Solutions thank each nominating fire chief for their submissions and salute all the first responders nominated this year for their skillful and courageous acts in saving lives.
The 2020 nomination period is now open and closes May 17 at 11:59 PM ET. The incident must have occurred after April 1, 2019, to qualify for the nomination. The public announcement of the recipient(s) will be made Tuesday, August 18, 2020.
The award recipient(s) and their department chief will enjoy VIP treatment during FRI, August 19 -21, in Phoenix, Arizona. The award presentations will take place during FRI’s general session, Thursday, August 20. The recipient's chief is also presented with the Benjamin Franklin Departmental Award for Leadership.
Jim Philipps is the IAFC's assistant director of strategic communications.