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.
Captain Eric Hankins, Yuba City (CA) Fire Department. He has been a member of the fire service since 1991.
Comment: “The room was probably only a few seconds away from being fully engulfed when Capt. Hankins pulled the two children to safety.” Marc Boomgarden, department fire chief, Yuba City (CA) Fire Department.
As Fire Captain Eric Hankins was driving from home to the fire station mid-morning on January 13, 2009, he thought he saw steam coming from the roof of a house ahead. As he drew nearer, he realized that smoke was coming from the eaves of the house. He passed the house and then made a U-turn. He called the Yuba City Public Safety Dispatch Center and reported that he was at the scene of a possible attic fire and requested a first-alarm response. Hankins then crossed the street to the home.
The structure’s attic had been converted into a small studio apartment that could be accessed only from an exterior stairway. As Hankins walked up the staircase, a woman who had been walking down the street began screaming and frantically running toward the house. When she reached the top of the stairs, Hankins had to pull her back to safety: Despite a language barrier, it became apparent that the woman had a child trapped inside the burning house.
Hankins, wearing only his street clothes–and without regard for his personal safety–opened the door to the apartment. He encountered very heavy smoke. He crawled approximately 15 feet inside the structure and heard a screaming child on the right side of the room. Fire was engulfing the left side and starting to run across the ceiling. Hankins began a search toward the screams; visibility was down to only six to 12 inches of the floor. Hankins found the three-year-old boy, sitting on the floor, only by feeling the child’s leg. He pulled the child down and carried him outside to safety and his mother. The mother was screaming that another child was trapped inside.
Hankins, once again, reentered the room to search of the second child. Flames now were rolling across the ceiling above his head. Heat buildup was significant. The second child did not cry or scream, but Hankins thought he heard what sounded like a cough. He made a thorough search and found the one-year-old girl back behind the bed, close to the wall. He picked the child up and took her outside to her mother and the ambulance that had arrived. The family was transported to the hospital.
After confirming that no one else was inside the house, Hankins shut the door to slow the spread of the fire. He notified Yuba City Public Safety Dispatch Center of the two rescues and asked for a second alarm. He then put on his personal protective equipment and remained on-scene until he was joined by the first-due engine company. He assisted with the fire attack. After the fire was extinguished, Hankins was also transported to the hospital emergency room for observation and treatment of minor smoke inhalation.
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.