2014 Ray Downey Courage and Valor Award: Fallen Bryan (TX) Firefighter, Lt. Gregory Pickard

Next week at FDIC 2014, Lieutenant Gregory Pickard of the Bryan (TX) Fire Department–who fell in the line of duty last year while trying to rescue his colleague, Lieutenant Eric Wallace–will be named the recipient of the Ray Downey Courage and Valor Award. The award will be presented to his widow Susan at the Opening Ceremonies at FDIC on Wednesday.

On February 15, 2013, a fire started inside the Knights of Columbus hall in Bryan, Texas, when an electrical fan cord shorted out. The cord ignited a plastic first aid kit, extended to the counters, and then to the remainder of the structure. The Bryan Fire Department was notified at 11:19 p.m. Multiple companies responded.

Lt. Eric Wallace, the first officer on the scene, arrived on Engine 1 and determined the fire should be attacked offensively, since a small amount of fire was visible in a corner of the structure. After about 13 minutes inside the structure, Lt. Wallace and Firefighter Eric Juergen began to exit the building because their air supply was depleted. They became separated, and Lt. Wallace became lost and disoriented in the heavy smoke and the debris that was falling on the hoseline.

Lt. Wallace radioed the incident commander and reported that he was lost and low on air. The incident commander directed the rapid intervention team (RIT), which was standing right outside ready to respond, to enter the building to rescue Lt. Wallace. The RIT duties were assigned to Engine 5, comprised of Lt. Greg Pickard, Firefighter Ricky Mantey, and Firefighter Mitch Moran.

At about the same time as Lt. Wallace requested help, fire conditions changed rapidly. The roof on two sides of the building began to fail, and the fire broke through violently. Without hesitation, Engine 5’s crew immediately entered the involved structure without a protective hoseline to search for Lt. Wallace. They found him within two minutes, about 40 to 50 feet inside the bingo area, which under very heavy fire conditions. As they were moving him to the exit, a sustained flashover occurred.

When the flashover occurred, Engine 2 was inside continuing firefighting efforts in an adjacent area of the building. The Engine 2 officer came back to the bingo area, where he witnessed the crew of Engine 5 with Lt. Wallace in the room and fully engulfed by fire. Even though they were engulfed in the flashover and their protective clothing and equipment was burning, the crew of Engine 5 never relented in their efforts to continue dragging Lt. Wallace out of the building.

When they were within approximately 10 feet of the exit, they collapsed from the burn injuries they sustained and were removed by other firefighters. All of Engine 5’s crew, as well as Lt. Wallace, were severely burned during the flashover.

All four injured firefighters were transported to the hospital trauma unit in Bryan. Lt. Wallace succumbed to his injuries shortly after arrival at the hospital. Lt. Greg Pickard, Firefighter Mantey, and Firefighter Moran were airlifted to the University of Texas Medical Branch Blocker Burn Center in Galveston. Lt. Pickard succumbed to his injuries later that day. FF Mantey and FF Moran remained in Galveston for more than three months, undergoing numerous surgeries, treatments, and therapy. They continued treatment for several months after being released from the burn unit, and still face several months of ongoing care.

Lt. Pickard is survived by his wife Susan and two children, Robin Carpenter and Jacob. Jacob is a firefighter/paramedic with the College Station (TX) Fire Department.

While all Engine 5 crew members performed with exceptional courage and heroism, it was Lt. Pickard who unhesitantly led the crew into the hostile environment with the undeniable determination to find and remove Lt. Wallace. After the flashover, Lt. Pickard remained inside until FF Mantey and FF Moran were removed. As a result, Lt. Pickard received the worst injuries and passed away later the next day.

Lt. Gregory Pickard joined the Bryan (TX) Fire Department in 1981. He was a member of the rescue team and of Texas Task Force 1. He was the urban search and rescue team manager. He was an EMT and held advanced firefighter certification.


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