2016 Spirit of Courage Awards
2016 Spirit of Courage Recipients
Nominated by Rancho Santa Fe Fire Protection District:
On January 25, 2015, Mark Mariani and his wife were driving on Via De La Valle when they noticed a vehicle on the other side of the road had crashed into a tree and no one had pulled over to assist yet. They immediately turned around to check on the welfare of the passenger. From peering in the window, Mark realized the driver was still in the vehicle that was quickly filling up with smoke. He attempted to break open a window and pull the driver out but was unable to do so successfully alone. That is when Jim Brandt, a nearby neighbor, came running to the scene with boulders to help break open the window. They were able to successfully access the interior of the car, which was now actively engulfed in flames. At that moment, brothers Christian and Cameron Blas drove up to offer their assistance. The four gentleman were able to work together to pull out the injured driver and used a moving dolly to wheel him away from the blazing car safely.
Nominate by San Diego Sheriff’s Department:
On January 28, 2015, Deputy Alvin Vasquez was called to a disturbance between two individuals in Borrego Springs. Upon arrival to the scene, he found one of the involved parties sitting in the living room of his mobile home. He approached the man and requested that he step outside, when suddenly the man brandished a knife towards Deputy Vasquez. Deputy Vasquez asked him multiple times to put down his weapon, but the perpetrator turned around and ran deeper into the residence. Deputy Vasquez quickly went around to the backside of the home where a sliding glass door was located and gained a visual of the man from outside. The suspect grabbed a nearby can of gasoline and began spreading it around the room and all over himself. The man then dropped a lit cigarette and everything ignited in flames. Deputy Vasquez tried to break the glass door to help the man get out but was unsuccessful on his first attempt. He immediately ran to the front door and charged into the home to pull the man out, but the smoke was too thick. By that time, the man was fully on-fire and had collapsed on the floor. Vasquez ran to his patrol vehicle to grab his fire helmet and went right back in, but yet again had to turn around due to the intense smoke and flames. He then grabbed a fire blanket, threw it over his body and went back in determined to help the man escape. The male crawled partially towards Deputy Vasquez and he was able to get inside far enough to pull him out. The man was flown to a local hospital for treatment where he succumbed to his injuries hours later.
Nominated by Oceanside Police Department:
At 12:30am on October 5, 2015, Officer Sam Hay and Officer Brannon Heathman responded to a call involving a house fire. Upon arrival, they found the garage fully engulfed in flames, yet could see no indication that the residents of the home had escaped. They began pounding on the door, but there was still no movement inside. Officer Heathman located a side window, removed the screen, pried it open and was able to alert one sleeping resident to get out. At this point, they were notified that there were five people left in the home. Both officers entered the home and were met with heavy smoke and fast-moving flames that now consumed the kitchen and living room. They searched the home and found two additional residents sleeping in a back bedroom, which they helped evacuate, but to their knowledge there were still three more people to find. They continued searching but only found empty rooms. At that point, they heard a car explode in the garage and knew they had to get out. The smoke was so dark and thick that Officer Heathman had to call out to Officer Hay to help him find his way out. Upon exiting, they found out that the three people they helped escape, were in fact, the only three home at the time. Thanks to their efforts they were all able to escape safely.
Nominated by San Diego Fire-Rescue Department:
Late in the night on November 30th, 2015, San Diego Fire-Rescue Engine 12 responded to a house fire call. When they arrived, they were faced with extreme fire conditions that included flames shooting out of nearly every window and heavy, dark smoke. Firefighters Joe Zakar and Carson Dallas Higgins were notified that three children were trapped inside and made the quick decision to proceed to the window for a rescue attempt. Despite intense smoke production and rapidly deteriorating conditions in the room, Firefighter Higgins dove in the window without a second thought. Upon entry, he had zero visibility because the black smoke was so thick. He began feeling around a set of bunk beds and immediately found one victim on the top bunk, who had already succumbed to his injuries. As he continued to search for the other two young children, he heard moaning coming from below. He blindly felt around the bottom bunk and found the male child, who he pulled out of the bed and handed to Firefighter Zakar. Higgins then turned back around to search for the other child but soon had to retreat due to the intense heat. At this time, Zakar entered the room, determined to find the other child. After a few moments of searching, he found the female child on the floor near the bed, grabbed her and passed her to Firefighter Higgins. After safely transporting them to the medics, both Higgins and Zakar began fire suppression efforts, determined to slow the rapidly burning home. With help from many others, the fire was extinguished and both children were transported to the UC San Diego Burn Center.