Fire Engineering Presents the 2012 Courage and Valor Nominees

Many outstanding individuals were nominated for the 2012 Ray Downey Courage and Value Award. The fire service can indeed be proud of the caliber of these individuals, who have displayed extraordinary courage, selflessness, professionalism, competence, initiative–and who without hesitation have risked their lives to save others. The finalist will be announced and presented with the award by PennWell CEO Robert F. Biolchini at the FDIC Opening Ceremony on Wednesday, April 18, 2012, 8:00 a.m.-10 a.m.

We are proud to introduce the nominees below, as well as a summary of the incident for which they were nominated. The nominees are listed according to fire departments alphabetically.



April 3, 2011. Truck 6 of the Arvada (CO) Fire Protection District responded to a well-involved, single-family dwelling with a report of trapped occupants. The fire had extended to the exterior of an adjacent exposure, also a single-family dwelling. (This fire was the subject of “How We Got Burned: Lessons Learned from a Wind-Driven Dwelling Fire” by Deputy Chief Mike Piper, Fire Engineering, November 2011.)

Firefighter Kevin Jacovetta (KJ) and Firefighter Chris Paine were assigned to conduct a primary search in the adjacent home (delta exposure) while the captain and another firefighter prepared to conduct a primary search in the home in which the fire originated.

KJ and Paine observed tenable conditions on entering the exposed dwelling. They had nearly completed a primary search when the sliding glass patio door failed from excessive heat, allowing in a 35- to 40-mile per hour wind. The wind pushed the fire from the exterior into the structure, instantly engulfing the two firefighters as they searched for the trapped occupants.

The conditions in the house instantly deteriorated. Paine found himself separated from KJ and was engulfed in fire so intense he couldn’t seem to focus on finding his way out. The carpet started to melt, and objects began to fall down on him. His self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) air began to get hot. He couldn’t call a Mayday because his radio lapel microphone had melted away. He became desolate and felt that he was going to die.

KJ searched for Paine in the untenable conditions. His radio microphone also had melted. He relied on his sense of hearing, and listened. He heard Paine calling out. Both firefighters were being subjected to intense heat, but KJ concentrated on finding Paine. He located Paine and led him to safety.

Both sustained serious burns despite wearing complete structural firefighting ensembles. They spent weeks in an acute burn unit at the University of Colorado Hospital. KJ sustained extensive and life-altering burns.

Kevin Jacovetta (KJ), a 23-year veteran of the fire service, has been a firefighter with the Arvada (CO) Fire Protection District since July 1988. He has served on engine and truck companies and as an acting officer, an engineer, and a firefighter. He is certified to repair SCBA and has taught fire behavior in the flashover simulator at numerous academies.



July 28, 2011. At 1226 hours, the Asheville Fire Department was dispatched to a fire alarm activation at a six-story, high-rise medical building. Per department policy, the department responded with two engines, one ladder, and one squad. The first-arriving engine reported a working fire on the top floor and requested a second-alarm dispatch be initiated. The dispatcher, however, failed to complete the second-alarm dispatch that would have brought an additional two engines, one ladder, and one battalion chief to the scene. This miscommunication resulted in a lack of personnel throughout the incident.

First-arriving companies carried high-rise packs to the floor below the fire and attempted to deploy them for fire attack. Deploying these packs was complicated because of decreased staffing levels, multiple locked doors, and standpipe issues that prevented water from being supplied at the outlet. Crews were forced to dry-stretch the high-rise hose to a staging area near the fire. Crews had to enter the structure multiple times and use self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) throughout the stairwell, even down to the ground level. Crews that usually had designated assignments were forced to work in place of other crews to help extinguish the fire.

Initially, Rescue 3 consisted of a three-person crew. Firefighter Jay Bettencourt became the fourth firefighter assigned to Rescue 3. He had been completing mandatory training on another truck in the city as part of a promotional process. He had heard the dispatch for the fire. After he completed the mandatory training, he drove his personal vehicle to the scene. He assisted with catching a fire hydrant to supply a ladder truck, which later played a crucial role in extinguishing the fire.

Bettencourt then went to Rescue 3’s apparatus to obtain an SCBA, an ax, and a radio. He reported to command for an assignment.

At that time, Rescue 3’s crew, after having worked two cycles, exited the building on the ground floor. Bettencourt joined that crew and quickly assisted with changing out SCBA bottles for two firefighters. The Rescue 3 crew reported to command that they were okay and ready to go back into the structure. Command gave the crew another assignment. The crew added another member, and the five-person company entered the ground-floor lobby of the structure and made its way up the stairs to the fire floor. They were on air because of smoke conditions in the stairwell. The crew encountered thick black smoke down to knee height on the fire floor. They followed the hoseline to the nozzle and attempted to get water charged in the high-rise hose until command ordered them to vacate the structure. Strategy had changed: A ladder truck was going to be used as a standpipe.

Shortly thereafter, Firefighter Brad Holmes’ low-air alarm began sounding. The crew followed the hoseline back to the stairwell, where Holmes and Engineer Clint Brown began to descend the stairs, but Captain Jeff Bowen continued past the stairwell door in a panic–according to Bettencourt, “as if Captain Bowen didn’t see Holmes and Brown continue down the stairs, and he was looking for them.”

Bettencourt and Firefighter Eric Johnson quickly rushed to catch up with Bowen. Bettencourt put his hands on Bowen three times to get his attention, but Bowen shook Bettencourt off and continued on until he reached a point in a hallway where he acted as if he were confused and “what he was looking for was not there.”

At that point, Johnson’s low-air alarm started sounding. Johnson thought to himself: “We are dead.” Bettencourt quickly grabbed Bowen’s SCBA shoulder straps and said, “We are leaving!” and began leading the way out as Johnson was pushing from behind. Bettencourt realized they didn’t know exactly where the exit was, so he searched ahead about 10 feet to try and locate an exit. However, the smoke quickly became too thick to search ahead. Bettencourt was forced to go back with Bowen and Johnson to prevent separation of the crew.

Bowen’s alarm had been going off for some time when he told Bettencourt the two needed to buddy breathe. Bettencourt told Bowen to declare a Mayday while Bettencourt deployed his buddy breathing system and connected it to Bowen’s. Bowen declared a Mayday. Bettencourt successfully connected the buddy breathers. However, Bettencourt suddenly realized that Bowen had completely run out of air and had disconnected his regulator, causing all of Bettencourt’s air to escape.

Command acknowledged Bowen’s Mayday call, which gave his location and said he was low on air, but command was unable to copy who had called the Mayday.

Bowen and Bettencourt were attempting to buddy breathe. Johnson lost sight of Bettencourt and Bowen in the thick black smoke. Johnson was hit with a water stream from a crew attacking the fire from the ladder truck. He traveled toward the stream of water that hit him to see if he could locate a means of egress. Shortly thereafter, he found the crew attacking the fire from the ladder truck and quickly followed the hoseline out, where he was assisted onto the aerial platform. He had no air left in his SCBA.

Bettencourt realized he and Bowen were completely out of air. They began crawling, attempting to find an exit. Because Bowen had become incapacitated, Bettencourt realized the best chance for survival was to disconnect the buddy breather and have Bowen maintain his position while Bettencourt searched ahead to locate an exit. Bettencourt progressed ahead through the pitch-black smoke, without SCBA air, to find an exit. He called a Mayday, advising command of his unit and location.

During Bettencourt’s search for an exit, he found multiple locked doors and even a window, where he considered bailing out. He reconsidered because he did not feel there was any way to lower Bowen out.  Bettencourt continued searching for an exit. He finally reached an unlocked door. He opened it and found a tenable, uncompromised stairwell with clean air. He put his ax in the door to hold it open and immediately turned around to reenter the pitch black smoke to rescue Bowen. Bettencourt began dragging Bowen about 50 feet back to the stairwell. Exhausted, Bettencourt dragged Bowen down the stairs, falling down flight by flight with Bowen on top of him. They reached the third-floor landing, where Bettencourt lost consciousness.

Rapid intervention teams (RIT) located Bettencourt and Bowen by following the sound of the PASS alarms. RIT quickly supplied Bettencourt and Bowen with SCBA air and removed the two from the structure. They were transported to the hospital along with seven other department firefighters. Bettencourt was airlifted to Doctors Hospital in Augusta, Georgia, where he was treated for extreme CO poisoning and smoke inhalation. Unfortunately, Bowen succumbed to the effects of CO poisoning.

James Bettencourt, a senior firefighter and member of the rescue company, has been a member of the Asheville Fire Department in Swannanoa, North Carolina, since July 2009. He is a technical rope rescue technician, a confined space rescue technician, and is certified in NAVI open-water dive. He is actively involved in the department’s postincident analysis of this incident.



February 28, 2011.  Firefighter Steinke responded with the Buckland Fire Department to a report of a man trapped in flood waters. The department does not have an active rescue boat. One was requested from the Wapakoneta Fire Department. When advised that it would take 20 minutes for it to arrive, Steinke donned a cold weather water suit and secured a rope and harness and entered the fast-moving cold water. He journeyed some 30 yards to the wooded area where the victim was located. He encountered a fence line and many trees and limbs along the way. Steinke reached the victim, calmed him, and prepared him for removal by the incoming rescue boat.

Tyler Steinke, a nine-year veteran of the fire service, is a member of the Buckland (OH) Volunteer Fire Department, Inc., northern Auglaize County, Ohio, where he is a Level 1 firefighter first responder and water rescue technician. Previously, he served with the Wapakonea (OH) Fire Department.



August 25, 2011. At 1845 hours, Chicago Fire Department’s Squad 5 responded to a still alarm for an occupied residence. While the squad was en route to the fire, the alarm was escalated to a “still and box” because of reports of heavy fire on the second floor.

On arrival, Squad 5 reported to their assigned area to complete their assigned tasks. Firefighter Larry McCormack proceeded to the rear of the fire building, the area to which he was assigned. He found the door open and firefighters conducting a primary search of the first floor. Knowing that there were enough personnel on the first floor to complete the primary search, he proceeded to the second floor by way of a 35-foot extension ladder raised by Truck 41 to the gable end. From the rear porch roof, McCormack removed the plywood covering the rear window to provide a means of ingress for a vent-enter-and-search of the rear bedroom. When he completed the search, he went through the door and joined with members to assist with the primary search of the second floor, heading toward Sector 1.

At about this time, members were ordered to vacate the second floor. As they were headed toward the stairs to exit, conditions in the attic changed drastically. A rapid rise of heat and a large increase in the volume of fire made the area untenable. Members in the attic hastily retreated down the stairs.

Captain Tom Ruane and Firefighter Gerald Carter of Engine Company 54 held their position with the hoseline to protect the other members as they quickly exited the second-floor attic.  Suddenly, a large volume of fire broke out of the knee wall behind Ruane and Carter, who were 10 feet away from the stairway. In an effort to get to the stairs, Ruane led Carter out. Carter then unexpectedly lost the handline and became disoriented and lost.

Ruane returned to the area and attempted to find Carter; he could not locate him. Exhausted, Ruane fell onto the stairs; fellow firefighters helped him down the stairs. As they were exiting the structure, Ruane was screaming that Carter was trapped in the fire on the second floor.

McCormack had just exited the attic area. When he heard that Carter was trapped in the thick, acrid smoke and intense heat, he immediately reentered the inferno that was now the attic area to locate and assist Carter. He entered the searing heat without the protection of a hoseline.

McCormack “keyed in” on the piercing shriek of Carter’s activated PASS alarm, which led him to Carte, who was unconscious, lying still, and barely breathing. His face piece had become dislodged.

McCormack dragged Carter to the landing and onto the stairs, where firefighters assisted in carrying Carter down the remaining stairs. Carter, who had suffered burns, was revived by paramedics and transported to the hospital. He is recovering from his injuries and will be returning to duty shortly.

Larry McCormack is a 16-year-member of the fire service. He joined the fire service in 1995 as a volunteer with the Worth (IL) Fire Department. In the spring of 1996, he was hired as a full-time firefighter with ISO Class 1 Oak Lawn (IL) Fire Department.  He served with the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) from 2004 to 2006, when he joined the Chicago (IL) Fire Department and was assigned to Hook & Ladder 20. In 2008, he was detailed to Squad 5. McCormack has numerous certifications from the Office of the State Fire Marshal, Illinois. Among them are the following: Firefighter III (firefighter technician); Rope, Confined Space, Vehicle Extrication (technician level); Trench Rescue; Building Collapse; Open, Advanced Open, and Rescue Diver; Surface Ice Rescue Technician; Rapid Intervention; Hazardous Materials (awareness, first responder, technician); Emergency Medical Technician B-Illinois Department of Health; and numerous rescue disciplines. He has been an instructor with the Oak Lawn Fire Academy, the University of Illinois State Fire Academy (IFSI), and the Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC).  He also developed and was the lead instructor for the Chicago Fire Department’s new Forcible Entry program.



The East Coast had experienced the worst nor’easter in recent history in October 2011. The Coventry Fire Department (CFD) had responded to multiple wires-down incidents and seven medical calls in the 12 hours preceding the fire call below.

October 30, 2011. At 1:39 a.m., a fire alarm was sounded for smoke in the building in Coventry. The North Coventry Fire Department (NCFD) was first on scene at 1:55 a.m. with Captain Ray Eldridge as incident commander. Eldridge reported a working structure fire, a person trapped, smoke filling the building, and the fire spreading. Residents attempted to rescue the trapped victim, but they were pushed back by the heat and smoke.

Eldridge directed NCFD Firefighter Bud Myers and CFD Firefighter Jessica Lynn Carilli and Chief Joseph Michael Carilli to enter the structure to search for the trapped occupant. The firefighters ascended the stairs to the second floor, where they encountered heavy dark smoke and heat. CFD Firefighter Geoffrey Firth held at the top of the stairs to provide support for the three searching firefighters. Without a water supply, the three firefighters searched in the black smoke and intense heat.

Chief Carilli searched a bedroom first and then the room with the fire; Firefighter Jessica Carilli stood watch in the hallway. NCFD Myers searched a bedroom and then a third bedroom. CFD Chief Carilli crawled into the room into the third bedroom, deploying a left-hand search. He felt a leg. Since visibility was poor, he rapidly felt for the individual’s head. He asked the victim if he could hear him. As he dragged the rescued man to the hallway, the man began to moan. Chief Carilli shouted so the other firefighters could hear him over the self-contained breathing apparatus, fire, and other noise: “I have him. I have him. Let’s get him out.” CFD Firefighter Jessica Carilli and NCFD  Myers assisted in carrying the man out to the ambulance crew.

The firefighters then returned to the second floor to suppress the fire and conduct overhaul. The rescued man, who had suffered severe smoke inhalation, recovered.

Joseph Michael Carilli, a 35-year veteran of the fire service, has been chief of the Coventry (CT) Volunteer Fire Department since 2006. During his tenure, he implemented mandatory annual physicals, EVOC training for all drivers, monthly mandatory drills, and a risk management plan, among other programs. He is a fire service instructor and an emergency medical services instructor. He served as charge EMT on more than 15,000 medical calls and as incident commander on more than 1,000 fire calls.


ENGINEER BEN WEST                               AND


October 14, 2011. At approximately 11:42 a.m., Engineer Ben West and Firefighter James Blackwell. Rescue 1, responded to a fire in a two-story apartment building with reports of children trapped. On their arrival, smoke was visible from the apartment, and residents of the complex were frantically yelling that two small boys were inside.

West and Blackwell deployed a hoseline, entered the apartment, and made their way to the second floor, the children’s last known location. Under zero visibility and very high heat conditions, they entered the first bedroom and began to search for the boys. Blackwell found the first child within a few moments. He quickly handed the boy to West, who descended the steps and carried the child to the front door to awaiting paramedics.

By this time, Rescue 1’s company officer had joined Blackwell in the bedroom and assisted in the search for the second child. He used a thermal imaging camera to scan the room and also swept with his arm to feel for the child. He did not find the child, and moved to the second bedroom to search there. West returned to the second floor and assisted with the search in the second bedroom.

Blackwell, meanwhile, remained in the original bedroom alone and continued searching for the second child. Several moments later, he found the boy lying under a blanket on the floor. He called out that he had found the child and immediately picked him up and carried him to the front door to awaiting paramedics. Both children made a full recovery after a brief hospital stay.

James Marty Blackwell, a 15-year member of the fire service, has been a member of the Gallatin (TN) Fire Department for six months. He was hired through the Department of Homeland Security/Federal Emergency Management Agency Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response (SAFER) grant program; the department was awarded a grant in March 2011. He is also a volunteer firefighter with the Ashland City (TN) Fire Department and Pleasant View (TN) Volunteer Fire Department. He is a Tennessee Commission on Fire Fighting-certified Firefighter I and II and a medical first responder. He has received additional technical training in vehicle extrication and rescue.

Ben West, a six and one-half-year member of the Gallatin (TN) Fire Department, has been the engineer (chauffeur) of Rescue 1since 2009. He is also a part-time firefighter with the Portland (TN) Fire Department. He is a Tennessee Commission on Fire Fighting-certified Firefighter I and II and has received additional technical training in high angle rescue and vehicle extrication and rescue.




September 23, 2011. Firefighter/Paramedic Ben Stasik and Firefighter/Paramedic Nicholas M. Sansom responded to a house fire. While en route, they were advised of heavy fire emanating from the front of the house. Mutual aid was requested.

On arrival, they were advised that two people were inside the house. Sansom requested two additional ambulances.

Heavy fire covered the right front of the house (A-D sides). Samson immediately pulled a preconnected 1¾-inch hose and stretched it to the front door. Sansom set up the pumper and helped to pull hose while he continued to communicate with fire dispatch and incoming companies, laying the groundwork for an effective operation.

When Stasik arrived at the front door, he heard victim #1 scream. He dropped the hoseline and donned his face piece. Crawling past heavy fire into zero visibility and high heat, he employed a right-hand search pattern. He called out to the victim several times. He received no answer. Part of the ceiling collapsed and fell on Stasik and victim #1, who screamed again. He was then able to locate her. He dragged her from the house. This was within three minutes on the scene.

With the fire raging, Stasik picked up the line and attacked the fire from outside, darkening it down. He then pulled the line into the house and attacked the fire, which was now in the living room. Sansom came inside to assist. They pulled more line and pushed the fire back down the hallway and eventually back into the bedroom. When they went outside, the father told Stasik that his son, victim #2, was in the basement, and he directed Stasik to the basement stairs.

Stasik reentered the house with a thermal imaging camera, crawled past the fire that was again building in intensity, and found the basement stairs. He descended the stairs, located victim #2, and led him to safety. All victims were reported out of the house within about 11 minutes into the incident.

Benjamin D. Stasik has been a member of the Mogadore (OH) Fire Department since 2010. He is a certified Firefighter II-Paramedic. He began his fire service career as an Explorer at the Brimfield (OH) Fire Department in his mid-teens. In 2006, he was hired as a fulltime firefighter/medic by the Tallmadge (OH) Fire Department, where he is a fire safety inspector. He has an associate degree in fire science and is working toward a bachelor’s degree in emergency management at Akron University.

Nicholas M. Sansom began his fire service career with the Mogadore (OH) Fire Department in 1994. He has been a full-time firefighter/medic with the Tallmadge (OH) Fire Department since 2000; he joined that department in 1998 as a part-time employee. He is a certified Firefighter II/paramedic




November 25, 2011. At 0800 hours, St. Petersburg Fire & Rescue Engine 8 and Truck 1 were dispatched to a structure fire for a report of an electrical odor, which was ultimately determined to be limited to an electrical outlet. At 0809 hours, the dispatcher advised of an additional structure fire response at 2721 22 Avenue South. As units cleared the first call, they self-dispatched to the next call.

District Chief M. Zamparelli, heading west on 22 Avenue South, saw a very large column of smoke. He requested a working fire file and asked dispatch not to cancel any units as a result of additional units “jumping” the call from the last response.

When Engine 5 and Zamparelli arrived on scene, bystanders told them emphatically that an elderly male was trapped inside the structure. At the time, the one-story frame structure had heavy fire involvement in the A/D corner and most of the attic. The smoke conditions throughout the rest of the structure were extreme; dark, turbulent, high-heat smoke was venting from all sides. The victim was reported to be in the B/C corner, with access from the rear of the structure.

Immediately Firefighter/EMT Bradley L. Williams and Firefighter/EMT Christopher W. Spafford initiated a search/rescue attempt without the benefit of a hoseline because of time constraints. Despite the tenuous atmospheric conditions within the structure, they entered the enclosed rear porch and continued deeper into the structure, searching for the resident.

The Engine 5 driver pulled a 1¾-inch preconnect to the rear of the structure and placed it at the rear door. On making the kitchen area, the team found the victim who, after a final cough, was no longer breathing.

Williams and Spafford removed him to the backyard, where additional personnel administered medical treatment. The victim was treated by the advanced life support team for respiratory arrest and was transported to the hospital in critical condition.

Conditions within the structure had deteriorated so that it was no longer possible to enter at the rear of the structure even with a flowing hose stream. On the alpha side Ladder 8 and Engine 3 were directed to apply a 2½-inch line through the front window on the alpha side to knock down the fire and help improve overall interior conditions. Then, both the 2½-line in the front and the 1¾-inch line in the rear were brought into the structure, and the fire was completely knocked down.

Christopher W. Spafford, a member of the fire service for six years, is a firefighter/EMT with St. Petersburg (FL) Fire & Rescue, where he is also a member of the hazardous materials team.

Bradley L. Williams, a 10-year veteran of the fire service, is a firefighter/EMT with St. Petersburg (FL) Fire & Rescue, where he is also a member of the hazardous materials team.



April 21, 2011. On this morning, West Metro Fire Rescue received a call for a structure fire in a single-family home. Initial reports indicated that an elderly woman was inside and unable to get out. As fire companies were toned to the incident, Firefighter/Paramedic Yon Nunez, working as an assistant fire marshal on a code-enforcement issue nearby, heard the call and drove to the scene.

On arrival, he noted smoke coming from the attic. He knew responding crews were still minutes away and that an elderly woman was reported to be trapped. Without personal protective equipment, self-contained breathing apparatus, or tools, he raced to the front door in his duty uniform and entered the home. On entering, he came across the elderly woman lying on the floor in a hallway. He assisted her to safety. He carried her to his vehicle and began to administer aid as responding fire apparatus arrived on the scene. When a medic unit arrived, she was transported to a nearby hospital for evaluation. At last report, she was doing well.

Yon Nunez is a firefighter/paramedic with the West Metro Fire Rescue, Littleton, Colorado, where he has served for 11 years. He has served as the department’s field instructor and tactical medic for the EMS division on the two busiest ambulances for more than three years, as an alternate fire investigator for the Fire Prevention Bureau for three years, and as a member of the heavy rescue company for four years. He is a rescue specialist for Colorado USAR Task Force 1.



January 23, 2011. When Second Lieutenant Charles Joseph Ovesny III arrived at the scene in response to a call for a residential fire, he was struck by the fact that it seemed unusual that the homeowner, who had called in the fire, was not outside waiting for the firefighters.

Ovesny questioned a neighbor, who said she had not seen the homeowner. Ovesny made finding her his first priority. He opened the front door and began calling out for any sign of the homeowner. In response to his calls, he heard faint cries for help. He searched for her in the black smoke. Feeling the floor, he located her and dragged her to safety. It was later determined that she had returned to the house to retrieve something after she called the fire department.

Charles Joseph Ovesny III is a 13-year veteran of the White Hills Volunteer Company 5 in Shelton, Connecticut, where he serves as a second lieutenant. He has been cited for his firefighter achievements and has been instrumental in fund-raising efforts on behalf of the department. He is a certified firefighter I.



July 22, 2011. In the early morning hours, crews of the Wichita Fire Department were dispatched to the report of a house fire with subjects trapped. Firefighter Josh Forbes was driving Squad 10 with Lieutenant Samuel Hittle as the officer of Squad 10. While en route, the dispatcher notified crews that the mother was outside of the house stating that her child was still inside. The squad arrived on scene first due and noted fire showing from the bravo-Charlie side of the house with smoke pushing out of every window and the front door. Numerous civilians swarmed the members of Squad 10 and frantically pulled on their arms as they advised that a baby was trapped.

When the officer and firefighter came to the front of the house, three civilians all pointed to the front bedroom window. Squad 10 was still the only unit on scene, and the fire was rapidly advancing. The crew performed a vent-enter-search on the bedroom. Forbes cleared the window with his halligan and used the halligan as a step to enter the front bedroom. Thick black smoke poured out of the window as he began his search in zero visibility.

On rolling into the window, Forbes found himself on top of a bed. Conditions were deteriorating. He moved in the direction of the open bedroom door to close it. In the process, while sweeping the bed with his hand, he knocked an object off the bed. He thought it was the baby. He dropped to his stomach on the bed and reached over the side to the spot where he heard the object land. At that time, he heard the child coughing. Forbes abandoned the door and went for the sound of the baby. He found the two-year-old girl at the top of the bed, on top of the box spring between the mattress and the head board.

The officer remained at the window to maintain voice contact with Forbes. Forbes scooped up the little girl and called for the officer; the voice led him to the window he had entered. Forbes handed the child to the officer outside; the child was immediately given medical aid. She was not burned, but she was experiencing severe difficulty in breathing. She was transported to the local burn unit at the hospital and released from the hospital two days later in good health.

Josh Forbes is a firefighter with the Wichita (KS) Fire Department, where he has served for three years and is assigned to Firehouse 10. He is a hazmat technician and an instructor in the Wichita Hands-On Training regional training school. He has a B.A. degree in business administration from Wichita State University. He is an active member of FOOLS of Oz.



March 4, 2011. At 1640 hours, Yonkers Fire Department communications received a report that two workers were suspended on the side of a building as the result of a scaffolding collapse. A predesignated High Angle Rescue Task Force was dispatched.

On arrival, two men were dangling from collapsed scaffolding at the 13th-floor level. They were entwined in the scaffolding rigging and their safety harnesses; the integrity of the remaining scaffolding and rigging was in question. The men were suspended on the outside of a windowless stairwell shaft. Their location made it impossible to reach the men by aerial ladder or from a nearby window.

They could not be raised or lowered using their ropes and the scaffolding system because of the entangled ropes and damaged scaffolding. The only viable option was to lower a firefighter(s) from the roof to perform two separate line transfers and then descend with each victim to an approximately one-story sidewalk bridge below, where they would be packaged in a stokes basket and lowered to waiting emergency medical service members on the ground.

Units were special-called to set up the technical scene. Incident command was sectored. Companies on scene immediately contacted the victims by removing a 13th-floor window; the men were conscious and not seriously injured. Communication with and monitoring of the victims were maintained from this location throughout the incident; a Spanish-speaking firefighter served as the liaison.

The only possible access for a rope-lowering operation was from a stairwell bulkhead 15 feet above the roof area and only 10-feet × 8-feet wide. Suitable anchors were established, and the locations for the “main line” or lowering line and the belay line (safety line) were determined. The distance from the nearest suitable anchor points to the ground was about 360 feet, significantly longer than the department’s standard rescue ropes. The crews constructed a system that would lower Firefighter Michael Giroux, in a harness, and also raise him several feet later in the operation so he could transfer the victims from their harnesses to his harness.

Giroux and a backup firefighter donned rescue harnesses and double checked the rigging system. Chief officers completed a final safety check. Giroux was then given the order to go over the edge of this 280-foot drop and begin his descent to the victims. He went over the side of the roof bulkhead and was lowered to the victims. The lower victim was rescued first. When Giroux reached him, he attached himself to the man’s harness, which he had to disentangle from the scaffolding safety lines, leaving the victim attached only to Giroux. Personnel on the roof lowered both men to the top of the sidewalk bridge. Waiting personnel packaged the victim and lowered him from the sidewalk bridge to EMS crews on the ground.

Giroux rode the waiting elevator back to the roof.  The entire operation was repeated for the second victim.

Both victims were transported to the hospital; they were treated for mild hypothermia and muscle strains and released.

Michael Giroux is a 10-year veteran of the Yonkers (NY) Fire Department, assigned to Tower Ladder 71. He is a department and international technical rescue instructor. He has a master’s degree in physiology.

In addition to the Courage and Valor Foundation, members of the selection committee for the award includes representatives of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation and the National Fire Academy Alumni Association, and

Fire Department of New York Battalion Chiefs Joe Downey and Chuck Downey, sons of Ray Downey, in whose memory the Courage and Valor Award was established.

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