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Firefighters Receive State of California Governor’s Medal of Valor

California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) CZU San Mateo-Santa Cruz Unit firefighters among those honored.

On Tuesday, June 25, 2024 ten CAL FIRE Firefighters received the State of California Governor’s Medal of Valor, the highest honor given to state employees, in a ceremony hosted by the California Highway Patrol in Sacramento. The prestigious Medal of Valor is awarded for “acts of heroism extending above and beyond the normal call of duty.” CAL FIRE said in a statement that the recipients were among 29 state employees who were honored for their extraordinary acts of bravery and heroism to save the life of another.

“We couldn’t be more proud of Fire Captain Josh Clark and Firefighters Ken Ellis and Kyle Callaway,” CAL FIRE County of Santa Cruz said in a post on social media. “Today, CAL FIRE CZU Unit Chief Nate Armstrong and Deputy Chief Jed Wilson had the opportunity to attend the Governor’s Medal of Valor ceremony to see them receive this great recognition for their life saving efforts in our local winter storms of 2023.”

CAL FIRE Director and Fire Chief Joe Tyler said, “While protecting lives, property, and our natural resources is our mission, there are times when first responders must put themselves at extraordinary risk to meet that mission and serve the people they were called to help. Today I am proud to see these extraordinary individuals honored. They deserve the highest commendations for their heroic acts.” Governor Newsom’s Cabinet Secretary Ann Patterson presented the Medal of Valor to the firefighters.

CAL FIRE Responders Assist Boulder Creek Volunteer Fire Department

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection released the following description of the incident for which CAL FIRE Captain Josh Clark and Firefighters Ken Ellis and Kyle Callaway were honored:

On February 21, 2023, the Santa Cruz Mountains were experiencing another winter storm in a season of consecutive atmospheric rivers. While this storm had less precipitation than previous ones, local winds were steady at 36 miles per hour, with gusts up to 50 miles per hour. Many trees in the area had been weakened by previous storms, and trees more than 100 feet tall were falling, damaging structures, and making roadways impassable. CAL FIRE Engine 1760, staffed by Fire Captain Josh Clark and Fire Fighter IIs Kyle Callaway and Kenneth Ellis were asked to assist the neighboring Boulder Creek Fire Department with a report of a tree that had fallen onto a house and trapped a victim inside.

Engine 1760 and Boulder Creek Fire units arrived at the residence that was badly damaged. The top of a redwood tree that was over 10 feet in length and 12 inches in diameter had broken off and fallen through the roof of the home and continued through the floor, trapping a young toddler underneath. The toddler’s pelvis was pinned between the tree and the badly damaged floor. Trees and other debris continued to fall from unknown directions all around, threatening the rescuers’ lives. Captain Clark, Firefighters Callaway and Ellis and the Boulder Creek firefighters worked from the rooftop and inside the home to stabilize the structure’s roof and floor and remove the tree while also monitoring the toddler. The toddler was fading in and out of consciousness and his condition continued to deteriorate.

The crew decided to free him before the entire tree could be removed, which presented a particularly technical challenge. They had to relieve the log’s weight from the toddler while preventing the roof from caving in. In an effort that can only be described as brute strength, Firefighters Callaway and Ellis lifted the remaining tree section just enough for another firefighter to pull the toddler out from underneath. Due to the weather conditions and rapid wind gusts, a helicopter air ambulance was not able to respond, so the toddler was escorted by firefighters, paramedics, and sheriff deputies to a trauma center where he underwent multiple surgeries for associated injuries. Fire Captain Clark, Firefighters Callaway and Ellis and the Boulder Creek Fire Department displayed instinctual courage in this dynamic and hazardous environment. The toddler’s dad shared, “If everybody wasn’t doing their job, I don’t know if he’d be alive or not.”

Southern California Firefighters Also Honored

Peace Officer Fire Captains John May, Kory McGranahan, Timothy Cabral, James Green, and Ariel Sosa also received the State of California Governor’s Medal of Valor in Riverside County in Southern California for their efforts saving an individual trapped in their vehicle in a fiery three-vehicle traffic collision. Pipeline Safety Engineer Al Giese received the Medal of Valor for acting outside his normal duties to ensure the welfare of individuals trapped in another fiery vehicle accident on Interstate 5 in Buttonwillow, California. And Fire Apparatus Engineer Paramedic Christopher J. Acevedo is the tenth recipient of the Medal of Valor for rescuing a neighbor from a burning home in Riverside County.

Featured photo: Medal of Valor recipients Fire Captain Josh Clark (center right) and Firefighter Ken Ellis (center left) flanked by CAL FIRE Deputy Chief Jed Wilson (left) and CAL FIRE Unit Chief Nate Armstrong (right). Firefighter Kyle Callaway is not pictured.


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