BY MORGAN FECTO
“To be perfectly honest, I’m not quite sure how to describe it,” said Firefighter Wilson Owens on how it feels to receive an award for bravery.
Owens, of Takoma Park’s fire station, Master Firefighter Steve Wiseman, of the Hillandale fire station, Lt. Mike Green, and Master Firefighter Steve Dodson all earned unit citations for their courageous actions during a fire in Takoma Park.
A 15-year-old girl was inside the burning apartment when the firefighters arrived at the scene on Feb. 20 of last year.
“They kind of threw a curveball at us,” said Owens, who learned of the trapped girl from another resident of the complex. “Usually there will be a report of people trapped.”
The firefighters took quick action, despite the surprise, and saved the girl’s life.
“You change modes a little bit,” said Owens. “Instead of being in attack mode, you are in search and rescue mode.”
With Owens handling the hose and dousing the flames, Wiseman went into the ground floor apartment with Green to look for the girl.
“He made himself extremely vulnerable,” said Fire Chief Richard Bowers, who gave the men their awards. The fire could have ignited without enough people to focus the hose on the flames, said Bowers
Wiseman said he discovered the girl under a pile of clothes, lying down between a bed and a wall.
“It was a pretty lucky find to tell you the truth,” said Wiseman, who discovered someone under a pile of clothes at a fire 15 years ago.
“That always sticks in my mind,” said Wiseman about the past fire.
The successful rescue earned the firefighters recognition, but the men themselves see their actions as necessary, not exemplary.
“To receive an award for something we would normally do- it’s hard to explain,” said Owens, flustered. “It’s part of the job.”
“Somebody took a minute to write us up for doing our jobs,” said Wiseman. “That was pretty rewarding and humbling at the same time.”
Nevertheless, the men risked their lives in a situation that could have taken a turn for the worse.
“It had a pretty good outcome for something that could have gone really bad,” said Wiseman of the fire.
For example, three people pulled from a burning house by the Prince George’s fire department last Thursday died. The tragedy occurred one year and one day after the Takoma Park fire and rescue.
“Every day men and women go out on a call, that’s an act of bravery,” said Bowers. “Is it extraordinary? Yes.”
Wiseman also recently received a unit citation for his actions at a fire in Burtonsville, from which firefighters saved 17 people.
“When you enjoy doing your job, sometimes people recognize that,” said Wiseman, who has been a firefighter for 35 years.
The four firefighters will attend the Valor Awards on March 15, an annual awards ceremony for public safety officials and their families, said Bowers.
“When they are recognized internally from their peers it means a lot,” said Bowers. “And the real reward is they make a difference in someone’s life.”
At the ceremony, the firefighters may get additional recognition for their service, said Bowers.
Only some firefighters attend the Valor Awards, but Wiseman said that that is not their ultimate goal.
“It’s such a good team effort,” said Wiseman. “And I call the crew a team because we all work toward the same outcome: getting people back to normalcy.”