The sight of almost 300 kids streaming up the hill from View Royal Elementary School almost overwhelmed Fire Chief Paul Hurst on Wednesday.
“There’s more coming? Holy mackerel,” Hurst said as the students — bearing cards, decorated hearts and banners — came to thank him for saving their nine-year-old classmate, Katrina Van Winkle, from a fire on March 14.
“This is the best day of my life. The highlight of my career. It doesn’t get much better than this,” said the fire chief, who ran into a burning house with firefighter Dave Sheriff to pull Katrina to safety.
Katrina was lying unconscious in the hallway as the blaze raced through the Paddock Place home. She had inhaled smoke and chemicals to the point of cardiac arrest.
Her grandmother, 58-year-old Trish Van Winkle, was unconscious on the front doorstep, and her great-grandmother, 78-year-old Sue Utendale, was at the basement door screaming that her baby was in the house.
Hurst saw Katrina’s leg and rushed into the house and dragged her out — even though he wasn’t wearing any equipment.
After being resuscitated on the lawn, Katrina was rushed to B.C. Children’s Hospital, where she made a rapid recovery.
When she heard the whole school was going to say thank you to the firefighters for saving her life, she wanted to go along.
“She wasn’t scheduled to come back to school until tomorrow,” said educational assistant Jennifer Whitehouse. “We didn’t know if she would be ready for this, but she walked up to the fire hall with all of us and met her family up there.”
At the fire hall, Katrina presented Hurst with a card saying: “Thank you for saving me. I am OK.”
The card will be framed and displayed in Hurst’s office.
“I can recall seven people I have taken out of building fires in my career and none of them made it. This is the first in my 29-year career,” he said.
“Usually, house fires at 3 a.m. don’t have good endings. This had a good ending, and it’s unbelievable that she has done so well.”
Katrina’s family also wanted to thank those responsible for saving their lives.
“Without you, we wouldn’t be here today,” Trish Van Winkle said.
“I am so thankful everyone’s OK,” Utendale added.
Art produced by the students will be on display at View Royal Town Hall and the fire hall.
The pictures are a reminder of what firefighters face every time there’s a call, said Whitehouse, whose father was a firefighter. “Every time the alarm goes, those guys put their lives on the line for you and me,” she said.
It is also a reminder about the importance of smoke alarms, Hurst said. “If there hadn’t been working smoke alarms, they wouldn’t have made it out of the house alive.”
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