View Royal Fire Chief Paul Hurst has been awarded a rare medal of bravery after he risked his life to free a young girl trapped under heavy debris in a blazing house fire in March 2013.
Only five such awards have been handed out by the Office of the Fire Commissioner in the past 10 years — four in 2003 and one in 2011.
The fire broke out March 14, 2013, at 3 a.m. The girl’s grandmother and great-grandmother were in the home. The girl's grandmother, 58, was unconscious on the front doorstep.
Responding to a dropped 911 call from within the 116 Paddock Place single-family rancher home, View Royal and Colwood firefighters arrived to find flames shooting out the back windows.
The girl’s 78-year-old great-grandmother was on her hands and knees inside by the basement door, screaming that her baby was in the house, and determined to go in, Hurst said at the time.
Based on that information, View Royal firefighters were about to enter the 700 C heat to find her.
That’s when assistant fire chief John Chow, who was breaking open the front door for ventilation, spotted her small lifeless body in a smokey hallway.
Hurst concluded immediate action was necessary and even though he did not have the necessary breathing equipment, he made three attempts to rescue the girl, who was trapped behind a door and under fallen furniture.
Having finally freed her, Hurst dragged the girl to safety onto the front lawn.
She had no pulse.
Hurst then performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation until ambulance paramedics arrived.
Katrina Van Winkle, 9, was airlifted in serious condition but stable in B.C. Children's Hospital.
Westshore RCMP Sgt. Max Fossum at the time called the fire chief a hero describing how he rushed into the inferno without necessary equipment and dragged the little girl out.
“It shows you what some people will do to save a life. He was our hero. Without Paul there, I don't know what the outcome would have been.”
The fire was believed to have started in the basement laundry room as a result of materials stored too close to a baseboard heater. The damage was estimated at about $200,000.
The British Columbia Fire Fighter Medal of Bravery is awarded to firefighters who have performed acts of courage and bravery without concern for their own personal safety.
Attorney General and Minister of Justice Suzanne Anton thanked Hurst for his selfless and courageous actions, saying in a news release neither she nor we — the people of British Columbia — will forget his actions.
“There is no doubt he is deserving of such a rare honour, and it is my pleasure and honour to present him with the B.C. Fire Fighter Medal of Bravery.”
View Royal Mayor Graham Hill said several firefighters, police and ambulance personnel were part of the tremendous effort that night and all deserve recognition and gratitude and that Hurst’s quick thinking and immediate actions stand out as extraordinary.
Timothy Pley, president of the Fire Chiefs' Association of British Columbia, commended Hurst.
“When confronted with what was truly a life-and-death situation for both himself and the young victim, chief Hurst acted instinctively and decisively, not only putting himself in grave danger to execute a rescue, but also providing life-saving CPR until relieved by paramedics.”