Courage and Valor Nominee: Jason Durbin

The Ray Downey Courage and Valor Award, presented by the Fire Engineering Courage and Valor Foundation, commemorates the life and career achievements of Deputy Chief Ray Downey, chief of rescue operations and 39-year veteran of the Fire Department of New York (FDNY). Meet this year’s nominees for the award, which is presented annually at the Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC) in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Firefighter/Paramedic Jason Durbin, Chicago (IL) Fire Department. Durbin has been a member of the Chicago (IL) Fire Department for nine years and serves as a member of Truck 2.

Comments: “Firefighter/Paramedic Jason Durbin’s heroic actions were remarkable from the very start, when he took every measure to notify, document, and instruct building personnel and others with important orders that helped him to safely continue a difficult and very dangerous high-rise fire rescue. His quick thinking and actions went far beyond the expectations and physical limits of a single responder.” Fire Commissioner John W. Brooks, Chicago, Illinois. 


On Sunday, December 13, 2009, at approximately 2 p.m., off-duty Firefighter/Paramedic Jason Durbin was working on a private ambulance. Looking up, he noticed smoke that appeared to be coming from the top floors or roof of a high-rise building ahead. The closer Durbin approached to the building, the darker the smoke became. He ruled out a ventilation problem at the structure. He drove up to the side of the high-rise and could see fire blowing out of what appeared to be the top floors of the 29-story residential high-rise apartment building.

He told his ambulance partner that he was going to check out the fire, since no fire department apparatus were yet approaching the location. He asked his partner to have the department’s dispatch office report the fire to the Office of Emergency Communications, and then moved his vehicle away from the fire building, to leave room for incoming apparatus. He then ran into the lobby and asked security and maintenance staff to show him the locations of the elevators and stairwells. He also asked that the stairway doors be propped open and that no one be allowed to use the elevators until fire crews arrived and took control of the building. Some occupants were beginning to self-evacuate at this time.

Durbin confirmed the location and floor of the fire and ran up the stairs. At the level of about the 18th floor, he met a man and his son coming down; they told him that a woman may be trapped on the 28th floor and that the smoke was coming from her apartment.

Durbin arrived on the 28th floor, stopped a moment to get his breath, and felt the hallway door before opening it. He slowly cracked open the door to view conditions in the hall. Thick black smoke filled the space from the ceiling down to about two feet above the floor, where it turned to dense gray.

Now in the middle of a 100-foot hallway, Durbin could barely make out the apartment at the end of the hall as the fire apartment. He took a deep breath, entered into the hallway and continued to crawl, searching the left side for 30 seconds; he allowed 15 more seconds to return and search the opposite side of the hallway. He realized there was no way he could get into the apartment in this advanced stage of fire.

Durbin noted that this was not a wind-driven fire because the heat in the hallway was not yet so horrific. He reasoned that the fire he saw was venting and being pulled outside by wind currents. Crawling, he made his way toward the fire, and soon came upon a body lying in the hallway. He immediately dragged the victim back into the stairwell and closed the door. He quickly evaluated the victim—a woman who was overcome by smoke. She was conscious, had labored breathing, and was extremely disoriented. Durbin took a moment to compose himself and then hoisted the woman onto his back and carried her down the stairs, using the piggyback method. When he arrived in the lobby, he turned the victim over to the fire department ambulance crew for medical attention.

MARY JANE DITTMAR is senior associate editor of Fire Engineering and conference manager of FDIC. Before joining the magazine in January 1991, she served as editor of a trade magazine in the health/nutrition market and held various positions in the educational and medical advertising fields. She has a bachelor’s degree in English/journalism and a master’s degree in communication arts.

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