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LAFD 2018 Medal of Valor and Merit Awardees

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

MEDAL OF VALOR

STRUCTURE FIRE

FIREFIGHTER/PARAMEDIC RIO-BEC HERNANDEZ

In the afternoon of August 31, 2017, Firefighter/Paramedic Rio Bec Hernandez and his partner, Firefighter/Paramedic Rik Lestelle, were driving a non-emergency patient to the hospital. While enroute, Hernandez noticed a large fire developing in a two-story duplex a few blocks from their location. After weighing their options and aware that their patient was not in danger, they decided it was in the best interest of the community and the LAFD to report it to Metro Fire Communications (MFC), and respond to the fire. After the crew gave their report to MFC, bystanders informed them that there may be children trapped on the second floor. Without hesitation, Hernandez put on his Personal Protective Equipment and raced down the driveway to the rear of the building, which was engulfed in heavy smoke. Friends and family members were screaming for help, confirming that children were indeed trapped on the second floor. With little regard for his personal safety and with heavy smoke billowing from the second-story window, Hernandez entered the building. He was met with intense heat and heavy smoke. Without a hose line, he charged upstairs to the bedroom where the trapped children lay unconscious, rushing past the fire room at the top of the stairs where the flames were already extending into the hallway. With extreme personal risk above and beyond the calculated personal risk demands of the fire service, he entered the smoke-filled room to search for the children. He found one child unconscious on the floor, and quickly dragged her out, pulling her down the hallway and shielding her with his body as he hurried past the fire room. He brought her down the stairs and outside, where he placed her on the ground and quickly returned to the house to search for more children. Encountering the same conditions as before, Hernandez again climbed the stairs and entered the smoke-filled room. He found another unconscious child on the floor, and repeated his previous actions, moving the child past the intensifying flames, downstairs, and outside. As Hernandez was bringing the second child down, firefighters were making their way upstairs with a hose line for fire attack and to search for the reported third child. Firefighter/Paramedic Lestell assessed the first victim, who was in grave condition and needed immediate transport. He put the child in the back of the rescue vehicle, the non-emergency patient in the front seat, and transported both to the hospital. Thankfully, the children survived.

 

MEDAL OF MERIT

LAS VEGAS SHOOTING

FIREFIGHTER ANTHONY MICHAEL CRESTA

In the chaos of the Route 91 Harvest Country Music Festival shooting in Las Vegas on October 1, 2017, Firefighter Anthony Cresta found himself a victim in need of protecting himself and his girlfriend, Taylor. Like many concertgoers, he didn’t identify the initial “pops” he heard as gunfire. But when the crowd began to race for the exits and one victim fell to the ground, he realized a shooting was underway. Cresta and Taylor first ran to concession stands behind them, lying on the ground behind a large rolling trash can. After the first volley of shots, they could hear the snaps of nearby bullets landing. They then ran to the perimeter of the venue. With more bullets whizzing past, Cresta threw Taylor to the ground again, “making my peace with God and ultimately accepting my fate at this moment.” The two saw bullets striking the stand in front of them and, had they continued to run, would likely have been hit. Adrenaline rushing, they encountered a group of their friends. Cresta led a group of six women and another man out of the venue, while helping others in the crowd who were being trampled. Outside, they reached a cinder block wall, and he threw Taylor over it, followed by the other six women. The shooting continued, and they felt bullets hitting the ground closer to their location. Then the group had to jump a metal fence. Once out on the street, they received conflicting information: there were rumors of more than one shooter, and of a shooter in the MGM Grand nearby. Eventually Taylor and Cresta ran four miles to get away from the Strip, taking shelter with others, crammed into a small hotel room and watching TV for the next six hours as events unfolded. “As first responders, we are trained to help, organize, triage, and care for victims or those in need,” Firefighter Cresta says, in retrospect. “We haven’t been trained to be victims ourselves. Knowing what I know now, I realize there have been many occasions in which I could have done more to help others.” He continues: “It will take time to recover and heal, but we are taking the correct steps to do so.”

 

MEDAL OF VALOR

LAS VEGAS SHOOTING

FIREFIGHTER DARIN CRANDELL

Firefighter Darin Crandell attended the Route 91 Harvest Country Music Festival in Las Vegas on October 1, 2017 with a group of friends. He was 100 feet from his group when repetitive and consistent gunfire began striking members in the audience. Taking cover behind a concession-stand trailer, he watched as bullets struck the trailer and the surrounding area. After a few minutes, there was a break in the gunfire. Knowing he hadn’t been hit, Crandell made his way to assist various victims. The first was a woman in her mid-twenties with a gunshot wound to her upper back area. Confirming that it was an entrance wound, he saw that she had severely labored breathing and needed immediate transport to a hospital. As there were no ambulances available, Crandell and a bystander loaded the young woman into a nearby vehicle, giving instructions to the driver to transport her to the nearest trauma center. As he returned to the gate where he had exited, he found approximately twenty victims on the sidewalk, each with a variety of gunshot wounds including injuries to the limbs, torso, neck, and head. He triaged patients, adjusted tourniquets, and commandeered personal vehicles to transport patients. Crandell entered the venue a third time. By then the gunfire had ceased; Crandell searched for live victims and assisted loading patients into ambulances and personal vehicles. He stated, “I am truly grateful for my experience with the LAFD, as I feel it kept me calm through this event and hopefully allowed me to help save lives.”

 

MEDAL OF VALOR

LAS VEGAS SHOOTING

CAPTAIN TED “AJ” KALNAS

Captain Ted Kalnas was among those at the Route 91 Harvest Country Music Festival on October 1, 2017. “We heard. . . fireworks,” he said. He thought the sound was part of the show at first, until seeing people drop to the ground around him. He said it didn’t sound like gunfire. After being separated from a member of his group who was shot twice, Kalnas helped guide the other three people with him to safety. The closest cover they could get to quickly was the VIP grandstands, about twenty yards away. Even under the grandstands, they were still being shot at. It was dark and they couldn’t see, but didn’t want to turn on flashlights. They knew that people around them were hurt, and that several were killed. When the shooting subsided, the group moved on until finding a “multi-casualty staging area,” where many of the people bandaging and triaging were concertgoers themselves. Kalnas’ girlfriend, Vedamay Bradford, is a registered nurse, and administered first aid, with Kalnas helping as well. Paramedics were being held outside. Kalnas said, “If it wasn’t for a half dozen of us who were bandaging, taping, and starting IV’s, there would be a lot more dead. It was a freak circumstance. No paramedics were coming in. We couldn’t leave all those people. We knew the risks. So we stayed.” After more than an hour at the staging area, Kalnas and Bradford moved further away from the concert area to the official multi-casualty staging area, where victims had been laid out on colored tarps that corresponded to the severity of their injuries. It was chaotic, but well orchestrated. Several other off-duty first responders and medical personnel had joined in. “Everyone came together as one off-duty team to help the wounded,” said Kalnas. “I was very proud to be a part of that.” Kalnas has commented that the event took a mental, emotional toll on those who were there. He encourages them to seek help in dealing with this life-altering event.

 

MEDAL OF VALOR

LAS VEGAS SHOOTING

CAPTAIN BRETT KEARNS

Captain Brett Kearns attended the Route 91 Harvest Country Music Festival in Las Vegas on October 1, 2017. He was chatting with an emergency room nurse when the first shots went off. Approximately fifty yards behind center stage, he saw people running towards him, many of them falling and getting trampled. At first he thought they were panicking for no reason. With the second volley of shots, Kearns realized there was a shooter. A small group of young girls in front of him were crying and screaming, and he shouted at them to lie on the ground. He got down himself, trying to discern whether the shooter was in the crowd or a sniper from one of the hotels. Realizing most of the people getting hit were those attempting to stand and run, he chose to stay down. An older gentleman near him said he was shot. Kearns introduced himself as a firefighter and paramedic to reassure those around him. “I lifted his shirt and found a hole in his right flank,” Kearns says. “I reassured him that he would be fine, but we eventually would need to exit the area. I had to continue to yell at the young girls to stay down and cover their heads. This is one of the hardest things for me, looking back, because I can’t imagine how scared they were.” Kearns estimated the timing of the volleys of shots so he could lead his group to cover. The next two volleys were extremely close, and he could hear the snap of the bullets going by. In his words: “I have never in my life felt like I was going to die, but at this time I felt for sure the the group I was with and I were done.” The shooter seemed to be firing in their area, so they ran for cover immediately at the end of a volley, to a concession stand approximately thirty yards away. Behind the concession stand, Kearns came across a victim who was obviously deceased. The firefighter was conflicted about starting CPR, but the victim was not in a safe spot and not viable. He then came across another deceased victim. Captain Kearns overcame his own fear to guide others to safety, and his quick thinking and leadership saved many lives. In the words of Angela Coombs, an ER trauma nurse at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center: “I have seen many things in my career, but never really understood the difference between a first responder’s job and my own. Brett Kearns was lying on what appeared to be three or four women, shielding them with his body. It was the most courageous thing I have ever seen in my life. As he was protecting them, he was scanning the venue, looking from side to side to see if he could see the man or men who were shooting at us. One of your men was so courageous, protecting people he did not even know. He was truly a hero.”

 

MEDAL OF VALOR

LAS VEGAS SHOOTING

FIREFIGHTER /PARAMEDIC MICHAEL MANDAHL

Firefighter/Paramedic Michael Mandahl and his girlfriend were attending the Route 91 Harvest Country Music Festival in Las Vegas on October 1, 2017, when they heard noises they initially didn’t recognize as gunfire. As the second wave erupted, they were stampeded and trampled by people sprinting for the exits. Among the crowd, they saw a victim who had been shot in the head and another in the upper body. Fearing for their lives, Mandahl, his girlfriend, and another couple sought shelter in the VIP area, dodging gunfire and panicking concertgoers to get there. Bullets from automatic gunfire were striking the bleachers, signposts, people running, dead bodies, the main stage, the AstroTurf field, and the surrounding asphalt. During a break in the gunfire, they ran to the now-abandoned vendor and food truck area, where they came across a makeshift triage zone where the first of the dozens of victims were being treated. Mandahl immediately set to work, providing CPR to a male victim until he was transported away in a wheelbarrow. The firefighter/paramedic then turned his attention to thirty or forty seriously injured and critical patients, assisting off-duty firefighters, police officers, EMTs, and nurses by providing CPR. He bandaged a serious chest wound on a female patient inside an ambulance, and applied many pressure dressings. Using fence panels as gurneys, he assisted others in loading ten to fifteen people into automobiles, as Las Vegas Fire & Rescue Department ambulances were unable to access the area. When he went back to look for his girlfriend, he found her with the couple he’d left her with. According to them: “While others were running away from the bullets hailing down on us, Michael ran into the hailstorm to help others. We were lucky to be reunited with this amazing young man before the night was over. He no longer had his belt or his T-shirt; they were used to save people’s lives. Michael is an American hero who saved lives in Las Vegas.” Firefighter/Paramedic Mandahl stated, “That was absolutely the craziest day of my life. I just pray that I was able to make a difference.”

 

MEDAL OF VALOR

LAS VEGAS SHOOTING

FIREFIGHTER NICHOLAS SHRODE

Firefighter Nicholas Shrode attended the Route 91 Harvest Country Music Festival in Las Vegas on October 1, 2017 with his family. When they realized the shooting was real, they ran for cover under the stage. Shrode was separated from his family in the confusion. Realizing he couldn’t find his family, he tried to help others in all the panic. He came upon a group of three girls, one with a gunshot wound to her upper leg. He made a tourniquet with a pair of shorts to help control the bleeding. He realized she would be fine, and instructed her friends to help her on her way out of the venue. He found his father. The two of them carried an injured man to the triage area. Going back into the festival area, they encountered another LAFD member treating a victim. As he needed no help, Shrode and his father walked the entire field, searching for anyone they could assist. There were no living persons left on the field, so they proceeded to check the seating area and the area beneath it. Once they were convinced that they had done all they could, they attempted to reunite with the rest of their family and were successful.

 

MEDAL OF VALOR

LAS VEGAS SHOOTING

ENGINEER ROBERT JAMES HAYS III

On October 1, 2017, Engineer Robert Hays, his wife, and their friends were enjoying the performances at the Route 91 Harvest Country Music Festival in Las Vegas. They had just left the grassy area and were entering the VIP Lounge when they heard a series of pops, followed by semi-automatic gunfire. The area quickly became an active shooter zone. After moving his wife and friends to safer cover, Hays returned to the lawn. He saw a young woman who had been shot in the head. A young man was with her. With gunfire still striking around them, Hays and the man carried the woman to the VIP tent, which Hays believed would be a safe triage area. As he passed his wife and realized she was still in danger, he shouted to her to get out. It would be six hours before they would see each other again. Returning to the grass area, Hays shouted, “Who’s hit? Who’s hit?” The lights were off and it was dark; it looked like a war zone. With bullets still landing around them, members of the crowd used their phone lights to see. Hays stopped to assist various victims, most of whom were already dead. A young EMT named Jano offered to help Engineer Hays, and they worked together for the next few hours. One group of concertgoers, hiding under the stage, wouldn’t emerge until Hays identified himself as a firefighter. He directed them to safety, then canvassed the performers’ trailers and tour buses to make sure everyone in them was safe. After the Las Vegas Police Department and Clark County Fire Department arrived and determined the shooter was down, Hays insisted on staying to re-check casualties and help clear the area. At the LVPD command post, first responders learned of more “bodies” down the street. A group set out along the perimeter of the concert area and found more victims; one was an uncovered girl on the street. “She had died from her injuries,” Hays recalls. “I felt so sad because she was by herself. I stayed with her body for a while.” After encountering a FOX News reporter who interviewed Hays, Jano and Hays went to a nearby casino where they assisted survivors who were receiving water, blankets, and emotional support. Hays finally reunited with his wife at their hotel at 4:30 a.m. “I was very impressed with the amount of people who were helping others — people don’t do what we do for a living,” he recalled. “It was a tough night, and I feel like I did the best I could to help people. Unfortunately, I came across too many victims who were already gone. I was just doing my job — the one I’ve done with the LAFD for the past twenty-nine years.” 

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