|MEDAL OF VALOR AWARDS PROGRAM|
There are three awards for meritorious conduct. The Medal of Valor Award may be granted to uniformed personnel in the Department who exhibited courage above and beyond the call of duty risking their life to save another under conditions that put them at extreme personal risk. The individual must have exhibited his or her best professional judgment without jeopardizing the mission for the incident. The Certificate of Valor may be granted to both uniformed personnel and civilians from either inside or outside of the Department who have exhibited courage above and beyond the call of duty in saving a life or attempting to save a life, and/or whose actions put them at extreme personal risk. A Unit Citation may be granted to any unit within the Department whose members exhibited courage above and beyond the call of duty in saving a life or attempting to save a life, and/or whose actions put them at extreme personal risk. A Unit Citation will not be granted for an act where an individual or individual(s) are being considered separately for Medal of Valor Awards unless the unit’s act is independently worthy of recognition.
Since the establishment of this prestigious awards program, the Department has hosted awards luncheons in 1996, 2000 and 2004, and presented the Medal of Valor to a total of seven firefighters and one fire suppression aid have garnered the distinguished Medal of Valor Award – the highest honor bestowed upon a member from the Department.
On November 22, 1996, the first Medal of Valor Awards Luncheon was held to honor Medal of Valor Award recipients, Fire Fighter Specialist Todd Mitcham, Captain Larry Collins, Fire Fighter Specialist Collin Cook, Fire Fighter Roy Rodriquez and Fire Suppression Aid Steven Kuch. The incidents for which these initial awards were presented date back to 1991. Fire Fighter Tod Mitcham received the Award for his display of heroism on September 1, 1991, when he and other USAR crew members were presented with a challenge to rescue a construction worker who had fallen into a 20-foot-deep excavation, leaving his left arm impaled with a 7/8" piece of steel rebar. After determining that the rescue had to be performed upside down, Fire Fighter Mitcham volunteered to be lowered head first into the deep excavation. Once within reach of the victim, he had the risky task of safely heating up and removing a section of steel rebar from the victim’s arm in order to free him. He used a wet piece of cloth to wrap the patient’s arm and cautiously extracted the rebar. Once Mitcham secured a rescue harness around the patient and cut the rebar away from the arm, firefighters above ground were able to quickly lift both of them to safety above. With calm and unwavering determination, Fire Fighter Mitcham completed the rescue within 20 minutes.
Captain Larry Collins and Firefighter Specialist Collin Cook each received the Award for a similar rescue operation on August 9, 1994, of a building inspector trapped in a 30-inch-diameter, 66-foot-deep vertical shaft. This operation would be extremely difficult given the depth and width of the shaft, instability of the dirt walls, 12 percent oxygen content, and the possibility of aftershocks from the January 1994 Northridge earthquake. Collins, at 5'6” and 140 pounds, took on the challenge to be lowered into the shaft. Once 20 feet below, he spotted the critically injured victim slightly wedged in a sitting position, with his knees almost to his chest; the victim stated that his back was broken. Collins quickly examined the confirmed the victim’s condition, as he continued working diligently over 70 minutes under these adverse conditions until he was relieved by Fire Fighter Specialist Collin Cook. Cook, a USAR member from Truck 73, dug around the victim's knees to lift him; suddenly, the victim lost consciousness and stopped breathing. He worked quickly and managed to dislodge the victim, place a harness around him and bring him to the surface. Department paramedics treated the victim enroute to the hospital and restored his breathing; two days later, the victim died from his injuries. Despite the tragic outcome, both firefighters demonstrated great courage and dedication throughout the rescue.
Fire Fighter Roy Rodriquez and Fire Suppression Aid Steven Kuch also earned Medals of Valor for their heroic actions on August 20, 1993, while battling a brush fire above Altadena in steep terrain. Fly crew 2-2 was overrun by a sudden, unexpected flare up of fire; within seconds, nine crew members were surrounded by flames and tried to climb to safety. Fire Suppression Aid Kuch noticed one crewman unable to get traction and decided to dive at the crewman's feet. He placed his hands in a position to be used as steps so the crewman could climb out of the steep hole. He helped five other crewmen unable to climb out, bravely entering hazardous heat, smoke, and gaseous-filled canyon to provide aid until help arrived.
Fire Fighter Roy Rodriguez, who had escaped to a safer area, noticed that crew member Chris Barth was critically injured after falling into a 120-foot, rock filled drainage ditch, just a few feet from the edge of a 100-foot cliff. Without concern for his own life, he immediately rendered assistance. Within seconds of reaching him, Fire Fighter Rodriquez strapped a rope around the crewman's waist and hoisted him up from the slope.
On September 7, 2000, the Department’s second Medal of Valor Awards Luncheon was held at the Essex House in the City of Lancaster to honor Fire Fighter Specialist Ron McFadden for acts of bravery displayed on July 4,1998, when a vehicle carrying three passengers plunged into a section of the California Aqueduct along Pearblossom Highway in the Antelope Valley. McFadden responded to the scene and quickly learned from two of the victims who managed to escape the vehicle and swim to the surface that nine-year-old Shanika Lister was still trapped inside the overturned vehicle 16-feet below the surface. Heeding the suggestion of Fire Fighter Paramedic Jeff Britton, McFadden donned his self-contained breathing apparatus and entering the water. When the “low air bell” sounded as he swam to the center of the channel, his determination to find Shanika grew. Finally, he found the young girl, who had been underwater for over 30 minutes unconscious, and brought her to the surface within three minutes. Once above water, waiting paramedics administered CPR and re-established her pulse before airlifting her to Antelope Valley Hospital.
On January 12, 2004, the third award luncheon was held at the Park Plaza in Lancaster. Fire Fighter Specialist Ron McFadden and Fire Fighter Paramedic Jeff Britton each received the Medal of Valor for their brave acts during another equally dangerous rescue operation in the California Aqueduct. This incident, which occurred on February 19, 2002, was more intense, with five victims trapped in the vehicle deep below the surface. When Engine 79 and Squad 92 arrived on scene, Fire Fighter McFadden decided to volunteer to dive in and perform the rescue. After Aqueduct engineers shut down a section of the channel to slow the current, McFadden -- with his gear in place -- jumped into the 50-degree water. He swam to the north bank of the channel and found an overturned vehicle. He pulled out a 12-year-old girl and brought her to the surface. In less than one-minute, he punched out the vehicle’s back window and found a 10-year-old boy. As air was getting low, McFadden dove back in and found a third victim, a five-year-old girl. Exhausted and worn-out, he asked Fire Fighter Paramedic Britton to take over the underwater search. Upon reaching the vehicle, Britton located a small limb of a six-month-old baby infant boy. After pulling the infant to the surface, he dove down again to extricate the children’s mother. Unfortunately, only the 12-year-old girl survived the incident. Their heroism, along with all of the other responders on scene, demonstrated the tremendous risks taken to save others.
As recipients of the prestigious Medal of Valor, Certificate of Valor and Unit Citation, all of these individuals join a special category of “true hero.” Placed into a position to make swift life and death decisions, they applied proper training, skills and, most importantly, personal courage to save lives.