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The 21st Annual Red Cross Hero Awards: Celebrating Our Local Community Heroes

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They are ordinary people who commit extraordinary acts of bravery.

In a morning full of surprises, nothing quite beat the looks on firefighters Scott Kohler and Matt Towner’s faces when they reunited with a woman they had saved from a burning home “so hot,” they said, “that the carpet beneath our feet literally melted.” Kohler and Towner were honored as First Responder Heroes at this year’s Hero Awards Breakfast.
 
In September 2017, Scott and Matt – along with crews from Clackamas Fire District #1 and Portland Fire and Rescue – responded to a two-alarm house fire in Happy Valley, Oregon.  Dea Hammons, visiting from Kansas City, was trapped upstairs and unable to escape. Although it took only seconds for Scott and Matt to reach her, at that point there was no longer anywhere to exit the building other than through her window on the second floor.   
 
“We were cut off,” said Matt. “The fire was happening so fast.  The carpet was melting from the heat and we saw the fire coming over the ceiling.  The only way out was through the window, but we couldn’t get a ladder in time. We had to use our bailout method.  It’s meant for firefighters to escape, not exactly to help victims of fires. It was unorthodox.”
 
As they waited for a ladder truck to arrive, Scott climbed out the window, hanging on to his bailout rope and bracing his knees and shins against the house.  Then Matt helped Dea roll onto Scott’s lap.  After Matt used his own rope to exit from the window, the two firemen kept Dea balanced on Scott’s lap while they hung suspended waiting for the ladder to arrive. Capt. Kyle Olsen knew their location and had dispatched Andrew Brian, the Apparatus Operator, with a ladder just in time.  Moments later the house was completely engulfed in flames. 
 
Matt said, “Part of the reason the rescue was successful was because Dea stayed so calm and cooperated.  While we were securing our ropes, she waited on the edge of the bed until we said ‘we gotta go now’ and she did what we asked.  Sometimes people get panicky, especially in extreme heat and fire.” The temperature of the ceiling fire was somewhere between 700 and 1000 degrees. 
 
Dea added, “I had made my peace.  Before they showed up, I figured I was gonna die.  This was it.”
 
Thanks to the firemen’s brave actions, Dea’s life was saved.  Deflecting praise, the firefighters credited their fire department for giving them the “tools and training to be successful.”
 
The surprise reunion between the firemen and the woman they rescued nearly brought the house down at the Hero Awards event.
 
How Do You Spot a Hero? 
 
Heroes tend to show up in unexpected places and in unexpected ways. They show up at front doors to install smoke alarms. They offer comfort to victims of home fires. They transport animals away from danger; stage volunteer blood drives; and save lives with their quick thinking and with tools as simple as a rope, a telephone, or a horse trailer. They are ordinary people who commit extraordinary acts of bravery.
 
 
This year, The American Red Cross honored a number of other incredible Hero Award winners at its 21st Annual Hero Awards Breakfast held on March 9th. 
 
A Morning Full of Surprises
 
Harlem Globetrotter, Scooter Christensen, showed up to open the event with a few basketball tricks. Known for his ability to spin a basketball (the longest ever, according to the Guinness Book of Records) on his nose, no less, Scooter said he came to the event to honor a teammate from New Orleans who lived through Hurricane Katrina and a coach affected by recent hurricanes in Houston.
 
“The Globetrotters are partners with the American Red Cross,” he said. “It’s the perfect marriage. We are two organizations that put smiles on people’s faces.”
 
The morning’s local Hero stories inspired Scooter in more ways than one: “I came full circle to understanding my teammate’s and coach’s stories – and how the Red Cross helped them in times of need,” he said. “And now, having heard stories from this morning, I plan to go home to my family and make sure that they have a safety plan.”
 
Stevie Mercer and Jimi Harden surprised the audience with a detailed account of their home fire. This brave couple knew what to do in the event of a fire, thanks to Red Cross volunteers who set up their smoke alarm.  When Stevie and Jimi needed it most, they remembered they had less than two minutes to get out of their home, which caught fire in 2016. They survived the blaze and credited the Red Cross for their quick life-saving decisions.
 
Said Stevie, “Today’s event drives home the fact that we are all in this together and just how important it is for everyday citizens to make a difference.”
 
Other Heroes Honored
 
Josh Vincent, a customer service rep with Clark Public Utilities, was honored as the Adult Good Samaritan Hero.  During a service call he realized his customer, Laurel Faught, needed medical attention.  He called 911 for her and kept talking to Laurel until help arrived.  Emergency responders said without Josh’s concern for Laurel and calling for help in time, she would have died.   
 
Crystal Mai Purdy of Lincoln Memorial Park and Dignity Memorial received an award as a Military Hero for her work serving veterans after deployment and in their final years of life. She works tirelessly to help lay veterans to rest with proper military honors.  Crystal spent her early years growing up in Japan and has always admired the way the Japanese people honor and revere their elders.  Crystal strives to bring that same dignity to our vets, and especially to those that have become homeless. 
 
Brandon Parsons received the Give Life Hero Award for organizing a blood drive as his way to “give back” after his accident on a construction site.  His injuries were so severe that his right leg was amputated.  Brandon needed multiple surgeries and 29 units of blood to survive.  He says he’s grateful to the donors who gave blood before he needed it and continues to “pay it forward” for other people in need.
 
Kim Mosiman of Sound Equine Options was honored as a Community Hero. During the September 2017 Eagle Creek wildfire in the Columbia River Gorge, Kim mobilized her vast network of animal owners and volunteers to coordinate a rescue effort for hundreds of livestock, particularly horses and other large animals that were in the path of the massive wildfire.  She credits her team of volunteers for saving and sheltering so many animals in the crisis.  She said one memorable moment was when one of the volunteers opened the back of his truck and told his dog to round up the animals scattered in a field. Firefighters told the man his dog had only five minutes.  No one thought the dog could do it.  But he did.  The dog corralled all the animals into the truck in time, sparring their lives.
 
Jack Crowell is an extraordinary Red Cross volunteer whose skills and contributions are numerous. He was given the Voluntary Service Hero award for helping make the Warm Springs Indian Reservation in Central Oregon safer through smoke alarm installations and delivering home fire safety education. With this objective in mind, Jack reached 470 people in the Warm Springs community in one year, which is nearly 16 percent of the total Warm Springs population.
 
Zach Rodgers received the Youth Good Samaritan Hero award for performing CPR on his father, Ryan, when he suddenly went into cardiac arrest one night in 2017.  Zach knew what to do, “for a reason,” he said. Zach was honored because without his quick thinking and actions, his father would not be here today.
 
In addition to these Hero Award recipients, the American Red Cross recognized its more than 3,000 heroes in the Cascades region who proudly wear a Red Cross vest. These Red Cross heroes respond day and night to help an average of three families displaced by disasters every single day. They open disaster relief shelters and provide resources to help people recover after their lives have been torn apart by fire, flood, tornados and other disasters.
 
For most of us, saving someone’s life is an unexpected event.  For the 56,000 disaster workers mobilized across the nation in 2017 – 92 percent of them volunteers – saving lives is not so unexpected. They will tell you it’s a mission in which life-saving is the most important, desired outcome.
 
To all the recipients of this year’s Hero Awards:  Well Done! Thank You! 

To watch their Hero videos and see more photos from the event visit, https://spaces.hightail.com/space/6MrPKCBhff