Hero of Valley Fire in Lake County Honored for His Bravery

Lake County firefighter received a Medal of Valor Tuesday for his efforts to save crews trapped during the Valley Fire. He along with others were honored for their bravery. Details in this press release from Cal Fire:


Jim Wright

On Tuesday, seven CAL FIRE firefighters received the prestigious State of California Governor’s Medal of Valor award for acts of heroism extending above and beyond the normal call of duty. The recipients were part of 15 state employees who were honored for their extraordinary acts of bravery and heroism in order to save the life of another.

“Our firefighters put their lives on the line every day,” said Chief Ken Pimlott, CAL FIRE director. “But these individuals had to make decisions to act quickly, without regard to their own safety, which ultimately cost one of them his life.”

Governor Brown’s Cabinet Secretary Keely Bosler presented the Medal of Valor, which is the highest honor that California bestows on its public servants, to the follow CAL FIRE employees:

Division Chief Jim Wright, CAL FIRE Sonoma-Lake-Napa Unit

On September 12, 2015, at approximately 2 p.m., CAL FIRE Division Chief Jim Wright, a resident of Cobb, was off duty and at home when he was notified about the Valley Fire.  During the initial attack on the Valley Fire, four of the eight member Helitack Base CAL FIRE Copter 104 became entrapped by a significant fire storm and had to use their emergency fire shelters to protect themselves.  All four received second and third degree burns to their face, neck, back, legs, arms, and hands. Based on the captain’s description of their location, Chief Wright believed he knew where they were.  He drove to the base of an access road and found four uninjured members of the eight member group.  They quickly jumped in the truck with Chief Wright as he drove towards the four firefighters who were in danger.  Driving through fire and thick smoke, Chief Wright navigated up the road using burned trees as markers until he saw a clearing in the smoke and was able to distinguish the silver fire shelters in the distance.  Chief Wright pulled up and the crew that arrived with him quickly loaded the burned firefighters into the back of his pickup.  Chief Wright then drove them to a landing zone where the badly burned captain and firefighters were transferred to a CALFIRE helicopter and ultimately flown to the UC Davis Burn Center for treatment.  With no regard for his own safety, Division Chief Jim Wright’s heroic act saved the helitack crew of the CAL FIRE Copter 104 crew during the Valley Fire.

Division of Forestry Foreman John D. Guthrie (Posthumous)

On August 8, 1959, at approximately 7 p.m., Foreman Guthrie, as the leader and driver of a three person fire engine crew, responded to a fire caused by a traffic collision an hour earlier along the Ortega Highway (SR-74) about two miles west of Lake Elsinore. As they approached the fire, Foreman Guthrie got out and started down a steep bank to assess the situation and get a better look at the fire burning below.  The fire was quickly increasing in intensity and the shifting winds pushed a wall of flames up the canyon towards their truck.  Foreman Guthrie scrambled back and told his crew to move the fire engine up the highway out of the path of the fire and he would join them.  He also advised the firefighters to stay in the engine cab for protection.  Knowing there was no room for him in the cab and with flames advancing, Foreman Guthrie ran to the fire engine and tried to use a hose line to wet himself down, but the hoses were burned.  He dove under the truck for protection, but was overwhelmed by the inferno that roared across the highway.  Receiving 3rd and 4th degree burns over 85% of his body, Foreman Guthrie was transported to the hospital and sadly, succumbed to his injuries five weeks later. Foreman Guthrie’s selfless heroic act saved the lives of his three crew members, who although injured, survived the fire.


Fire Captain Specialist Douglas Mackey, CAL FIRE Nevada-Yuba-Placer Unit

On December 21, 2014, at approximately 10:30 a.m., CAL FIRE Fire Captain Specialist Doug Mackey, a resident of Red Bluff, was on routine patrol in Auburn when he heard a call from the Placer County Sheriff’s office requesting additional assistance as they had just received a report of gunfire in a residential neighborhood.  Captain Mackey responded to the call and learned that a lone gunman was holed up inside his house, shooting at officers and neighboring homes.

The Placer County Sheriff’s Special Enforcement Team (SET) arrived on the scene and noticed the suspect’s garage was adjacent to the roof of a neighboring house.  A SET team member climbed onto the neighbor’s roof, attempting to release tear gas into the roof vents of the suspect’s house.  The suspect responded by setting his garage on fire and the neighboring home started to burn, trapping the deputy on the roof.  With little time to spare, and in the line offire, Captain Mackey and an Auburn police officer ran out into the open carrying a ladder and rescued the deputy from the burning roof.  Fortunately, no one was injured. After the rescue, Captain Mackey and the police officer checked the other homes in the neighborhood for residents.  They found an elderly couple in one of the homes and, while providing cover, helped them escape out the back of their house.  With no regard for his own safety during a very dangerous active shooter situation, Captain Mackey’s heroic act ultimately saved the lives of three people.


Battalion Chief John Messina, CAL FIRE Butte Unit

On December 12, 2014, at approximately 2 p.m., CAL FIRE Battalion Chief John Messina, a resident of Chico, was off duty and driving through Butte County when he heard a radio call describing people trapped in their vehicle by floodwaters.  Chief Messina was close to the location and arrived five minutes later to find a flooded roadway and a submerged vehicle with three adults and a small child on top.  Chief Messina advised them over his PA system to stay where they were as help was on its way, but the vehicle, swept by the force of the swift moving water, suddenly started moving downstream into the main channel of the Honcut Creek.  The terrified victims screamed they could not swim.  Chief Messina quickly weighed his options, and although floodwater has many dangers, entered the fast flowing water without a life jacket or personal protection equipment and swam 100 yards to the terrified victims. After assisting the victims from the top of the vehicle, he gathered them and swimming initially while holding the child, helped them get to higher ground.  With no regard for his own safety, Battalion Chief John Messina’s heroic act saved the lives of four people, including a small child.


Fire Apparatus Engineer Johnny Miller, CAL FIRE Madera-Mariposa Unit

On July 25, 2015, at approximately 3 p.m., CAL FIRE Fire Apparatus Engineer Johnny Miller, a resident of Eastvale, was boating with his family in a remote area of the Colorado River in Lake Havasu, Arizona, when he saw a boat suddenly submerge, throwing two infants and four adults into the water.  None of the adults were wearing life vests.  The water was very rough and visibility was limited due to the many speed boats drag racing on this particular section of the river.  Engineer Miller immediately called out to the adults to move away from the rapidly sinking boat and then, without hesitation, jumped into the choppy water.  The two infants were wearing life vests; however, they were so young their vests were ineffective and they could not keep their heads above the churning water.  Engineer Miller swam out and had both babies in his arms in a matter of minutes.  With the infants safely in his care, Engineer Miller then swam over and rescued their mother, who couldn’t swim, and assisted all three to a waiting boat.  The men also lacked life vests, but were able to swim to the boat as directed by Engineer Miller. With no regard for his own safety, Engineer Miller’s heroic service saved two infants and a woman from drowning when their boat submerged in the Colorado River.


Fire Captain Justin Schmollinger, CAL FIRE Tuolumne-Calaveras Unit

On April 15, 2015, at approximately 2:30 p.m., CAL FIRE Fire Captain Justin Schmollinger, a resident of Valley Springs, was working with his inmate fire crew in the Valley Springs area when he noticed a large black column of smoke in the distance.  Captain Schmollinger loaded his crew into the bus, went to investigate, and arrived on scene to see a house in flames. Captain Schmollinger forced the back door open and called out to see if anyone was inside.  Hearing what he thought was someone trying to yell, he entered the smoke-filled burning home and found a semi-conscious man lying on the floor in the hallway.  Captain Schmollinger quickly began pulling the man to the back door, but when he was within 10 feet of the door, he was overcome by smoke.  He ran out the back door briefly, got a breath of fresh air, then re-entered the burning house and pulled the man completely out.  After the victim was safely outside, Captain Schmollinger requested emergency medical services and an air ambulance.  Once help arrived, Captain Schmollinger transferred care of the victim to the paramedics and helped firefighters extinguish the fire.  The victim was treated at the hospital for burns and smoke inhalation and released.  With no regard for his own safety, Captain Schmollinger’s heroic service saved a man from a burning house.


Firefighter II Emilio Valencia, CAL FIRE Fresno-Kings Unit

On February 10, 2014, at approximately 7 p.m., CAL FIRE Firefighter II Emilio Valencia, a resident of Mendota, and another Firefighter were responding to a medical call.  While en route, they were advised that the call was a residential structure fire.  When the firefighters arrived, the emergency crews on scene told them that someone had run back into the building and they could hear screams for help.  Firefighter Valencia could hear the calls for help coming from inside the home, so he put on his safety gear and entered the home alone with the fire hose attack line.  The fire was growing in intensity, with heavy fire and smoke moving from the rear of the building towards the front.  Because conditions in the home were deteriorating quickly and it was difficult to extend the hose and pull it around objects and walls by himself, Firefighter Valencia decided to continue the search without the hose line.  He could hear the cries getting louder as he got closer to the victim.  He made his way down a hallway and into a small room where he found a man lying on the ground in a fetal position.  Firefighter Valencia reassured the victim he was there to help, but, when he began to pull the man to safety, the man started panicking and resisting his efforts.  Exposed to the full heat of the fire and heavy smoke which hampered visibility, Firefighter Valencia managed to maintain control of the struggling victim and pull him out the front door to the lawn.  The victim was treated for burns and smoke inhalation on scene, transported by to the hospital.  With no regard for his own safety, Firefighter II Emilio Valencia’s heroic service saved a man from a burning house.



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