Australian Firefighter Receives Franklin Award for Valor

Captain Kendall Thompson of the New South Wales Rural Fire Service was named winner of the 2011 International Benjamin Franklin Fire Service Award for Valor. The award recognizes firefighters around the world for their expert training, leadership, heroic actions and safe practices and is the highest honor bestowed by the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC). Cosponsored by the IAFC and Motorola Solutions, Inc., the Award for Valor was presented to Captain Thompson at a gathering of fire and emergency service leaders from around the world at the 138th Fire-Rescue International conference

“Captain Thompson’s tremendous contributions to this extraordinary rescue effort certainly make him worthy of this award,” said Chief Jack Parow, IAFC president and chairman of the board. “His story captures the whole of the spirit that is the fire and emergency service: from individual courage to dedicated teamwork and from tactical proficiency to creative problem solving.”

“For more than 40 years, Motorola Solutions and the IAFC have presented this award to some of the most remarkable people in fire and rescue,” said Jackie Wasni, vice president of Sales and Services, Motorola Solutions. “Each year, we are inspired by the stories of courage and humbled by the acts of bravery. This year, we commend Captain Thompson for his acts of courage that are not only an inspiration to firefighters around the world, but epitomize everything the Franklin Award for Valor represents."

Dangerous Floodwaters and Daring Rescues

During record-breaking flooding in Queensland, Australia, the crew of rescue helicopter HeliTak 220 and their “down-the-wire” crewman put their lives on the line to rescue more than 45 citizens caught in a series of deadly flash floods. Relentless rain and unforgiving conditions were a disastrous combination for the residents of Australia’s northeastern state as floodwaters forced tens of thousands to evacuate and many to lose their lives. Had it not been for the courageous actions of Captain Kendall Thompson and crew, it is believed dozens more would have perished.

With skies threatening on Jan. 10 of this year, flash floodwaters rush down Lockyer Valley, west of Brisbane, stranding hundreds of people in their wake. A news media helicopter captures the plight of one frantic family after a five-foot wall of water forces them atop their vehicle. Before swift water rescue specialists can arrive, the raging waters have swept the family apart. The mother, clutching a small tree in the current, is pulled to safety, but her husband and 8-year-old son are missing in the perilous waters downstream.
 
Flying over to assist with mutual aid, the four crewmen aboard HeliTak 220 initiate an aerial search. Within minutes, Captain Kendall Thompson spots the boy clinging to a hay bailer in the fast-moving current. He is bleeding profusely and in shock as Thompson drops down on a line from the helicopter into the raging floodwaters to retrieve him and deliver him to emergency personnel and his distraught mother.

Minutes later, HeliTak 220 is called to another flood scene with another unique set of challenges. This time, Captain Thompson must winch down to rescue an elderly couple, trapped inside a house that’s been swept downstream. Confined by chest-high water, the couple is unable to get out of their house because of the force of the current. Conferring with his crew, Thompson decides to descend upstream from the structure, then make his way through swirling chest-high water into the house to secure the elderly woman and clear her before she’s pulled up into the helicopter. He drops down again and re-enters the house to retrieve the husband and family dog.

With Captain Thompson continuing to act as the “down-the-wire-crewman”, HeliTak 220 rescues more than 45 people, stranded in their homes or on their roofs, surrounded by raging floodwaters. With unflinching courage, Thompson drops down on the thin line, dangling underneath a roaring copter, time and time again over the next 48 hours, to return them to safety.

A volunteer firefighter for just seven years, Captain Thompson repeatedly risked his own life to save others. His courage, perseverance and maturity in the face of grueling adversity not only went beyond the call of duty, but were an inspiration to his crew. In nominating him for the Franklin Medal of Valor, Assistant Commissioner Keith Harrap said, “Had it not been for Captain Thompson’s willingness to place himself at risk, a number of people would have perished in the floodwaters.”  

During the ceremony, the IAFC also honored the New South Wales Rural Fire Service with a plaque, signifying the contribution of the department’s personnel and leadership.

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