12 Wichita firefighters receive heroism award

When Wichita firefighters responded to a fire on South Rock Road last September, they expected a small fire inside an apartment.

Instead, they wound up saving a man whom they found on his bed, unconscious and not breathing amid the smoke and flames. Although he was taken to the hospital in critical condition, he survived the ordeal.

"It's a pretty good feeling," said Lt. Michael Sawyer.

Sawyer and 11 other firefighters from four units who responded to the fire received a Firehouse Magazine Heroism Award, which is given yearly to firefighters across the country for bravery. The group will be honored by the City Council on Tuesday.

Although the fire was relatively small — it was contained to a couch and some furniture on one wall of the apartment — Sawyer said the room was thick with smoke when firefighters entered.

The crew didn't discover that someone was trapped inside until they entered and began searching.

"They train us on about everything (including) finding people and getting them out," Sawyer said. "You go from fire mode to what we call the rescue mode and everything changes."

Capt. Larry Cole, who also responded to the fire, said the firefighters reacted quickly to the changing situation, and through teamwork saved the man's life.

"It's very rewarding," he said. "So many times... we roll up on a code blue (person not breathing) and the majority of the times we lose them. Even if you do everything perfect, the chances of getting them back are still slim."

Several firefighters carried the man out of the basement apartment and gave him oxygen and performed CPR while waiting for EMS to arrive.

Although the department received a heroism award from the magazine last year, Division Chief Ernie Schuler said it's not an honor the department receives every year.

"We were extremely lucky to get it two years in a row," he said.