On May 4th, 2017 the Burn Institute presented 10 local heroes with the Spirit of Courage Award. This prestigious recognition is given to local members of the community who risk their lives in an effort to save another from a fire related accident. Held at the Hilton San Diego Resort & Spa, nearly 300 guests gathered for a formal awards banquet to celebrate their bravery. The program was hosted by CBS News 8 anchor and reporter, Alicia Summers, and additional awards were presented by UC San Diego Regional Burn Center to Child Life Specialist, Kate Hamelin, and The San Diego County Fire Chiefs’ Association to the American Red Cross of San Diego/Imperial Counties . The Burn Institute also honored Fire Inspector Tom Santos with the Pamela R. Kelly Volunteer of the Year Award and the David C. Copley Foundation with their Community Hero Award.
James Boyce and Jason Myers
On March 29, 2016 James was on his way back to work from lunch break when he stopped at a gas station and noticed that a car had crashed into a gas pump. When James realized that no one was walking towards or away from the accident, he knew he needed to do something. James quickly approached the vehicle and saw a woman unconscious in the driver’s seat and a fearful young girl panicking in the back seat. James attempted to open the door, but quickly realized all doors were locked. He looked towards the front of the car and noticed smoke coming from under the hood and knew he needed to act fast. James yelled in to the young girl, instructing her to move to the opposite side of the car and cover her eyes. He then began hitting the window with a piece of metal he found on the ground. After numerous unsuccessful attempts to break the glass, Jason Myers, another bystander, ran over with a baseball bat. They were able to shatter the window and open the back door so the little girl can get out and run to safety. Now, they need to figure out how to get driver, who is in and out of consciousness, out of the vehicle. James and Jason worked together to hoist her out of the car, which was now fully engulfed with flames, and carry her to a safe location until emergency personnel arrived.
Officer Matthew Jencen, Officer Derek Harvey and Officer Lisa Nunez
On May 25, 2016 Officers Harvey, Nunez and Jencen were dispatched to a single car traffic accident, with reports of fire. Officer Harvey was the first on scene and upon arrival noticed heavy smoke and flames protruding from the engine compartment, rapidly moving towards the driver. Officer Harvey looked in the vehicle and located the driver, who was unconscious and seriously injured. Harvey attempted to enter though the driver’s side door, but due to the vehicle’s high impact into a tree the door was jammed closed and the steering wheel had pinned the victim to the driver’s seat. Officer Harvey then attempted to enter though the passenger’s side door to pull the driver out, but was unable to free him. At this point, Officers Nunez and Jencen arrive. Recognizing the dire situation and rapidly growing emergency, the three officers worked together to formulate a plan to suppress the flames and evacuate the victim. Officer Jencen retrieved a fire extinguisher from his vehicle while Officers Nunez and Harvey worked together to remove the driver from the front passenger door. Officer Jencen continued to extinguish the flames while Nunez and Harvey moved the victim a safe distance
from the fully engulfed car.
Deputy Sheriff Steven Gusman
On October 23, 2016 Deputy Steven Gusman was patrolling the city of Encinitas when he saw a large cloud ahead of him that looked like thick fog. As he approached what he thought was simply the marine layer, he noticed a strong burning smell. Immediately, he pulled-off to the side of the road and began walking down an embankment towards a marsh when he spotted a car that had veered off the road. As he approached, the vehicle was burning but no flames could be seen–just a thick billow of black smoke. Deputy Gusman ran over to the vehicle to check for occupants trapped inside, but the smoke was so thick he could see nothing. He yelled into the car “Sheriff’s Department” and a female voice responded back with “Thank goodness you’re here”. The Deputy then opened the driver’s side door and smoke came pouring out of the car. At this point, he could feel intense heat radiating from the bottom of the car. He held his breath, closed his eyes and went into the car, feeling around for the woman trapped inside. He found the victim and she notified him that she was in shock and could not move. Deputy Gusman quickly lifted her over his shoulder and carried her away from the burning car, which was now raging with flames.
Firefighter Matt Flowers, Firefighter Jordan Lara and Sergeant Eric Olson
On December 29 Sergeant Eric Olson from the Escondido Police Department received a structure fire call at the Green Crest Mobile Home Park. As he headed towards the location, he saw 30 to 40 foot flames shooting from the home. Upon his arrival, a woman notified him that her two young children were still trapped inside. Olson immediately located a locked door and tried to kick it down with no success. He ran to the other side of the home to an open window elevated 5 feet off the ground. Through the heavy smoke, he saw a bed and reached in to feel for the children. He jumped through the window and began searching, but was forced to retreat due to the intense heat. Hearing one of the victims coughing, he shined his flashlight in the window and yelled for them to follow his voice. Escondido Fire Department soon arrived and Olson notified them of someone inside. With a boost from Olson, Firefighter Flowers was pushed up to the window but his air mask was dislodged on the frame and he was exposed to the thick smoke as he fell backwards. Another crew member used his ax to remove the window frame and open a clear path for Firefighter Lara and Flowers to enter. They were met with heavy black smoke extending from ceiling to floor and extreme heat conditions. They quickly located one victim and handed him out of the structure then continued to search the home. At this point, Firefighter Lara had fallen through the floor and they knew they needed to exit the building quickly due to compromised structure. Despite their tireless efforts, neither child survived the fire.
Captain Steven Van Heertum
On June 7th, 2016 Fire Captain Steve Van Heertum was headed home from work on Highway 78 when a head-on collision took place just two cars in front of him. Immediately Captain Van Heertum notified the CAL FIRE Command Center, jumped out of his car and started checking the scene for victims. As he approached the accident, one vehicle was actively on fire so he went right in and pulled a woman from the passenger’s seat to safety. With fire quickly coming up from the engine compartment, he ran to the driver’s door and tried to pull it open, but due to the severity of the accident, it was wedged shut. Steve reached in the window trying to pull the victim out, but his legs were trapped under the collapsed dashboard. He told the driver “I’m not letting you die here today—I’ll be right back” and raced back to his personal vehicle to retrieve a fire extinguisher. After expelling his extinguisher, the flames were still not letting up. Steve ran down the line of stopped traffic collecting 6 more extinguishers and using them on the vehicle, but the flames could not be suppressed. Steve was quickly running out of options. He covered the victim’s face and head with his fire jacket to offer protection from the smoke and heat. Noticing a construction truck with a water tank, Steve directed the truck around the line of cars to park right next to the accident. He then deployed a hose line from the tank and sprayed the water onto the engine compartment until the flames were under control. Steve continued to stay with the victim and administered a double IV while they awaited the Fire Departments arrival. The victim was then extricated and taken to the hospital.