Courageous and self-sacrificing, the following award winners are to be honored Thursday by the American Red Cross at its 2019 Snohomish County Heroes Breakfast. The 24th annual fundraising breakfast is scheduled for 7 a.m. at Tulalip Resort Casino.
Home Fire Rescue Award: Jake Smith
Jake Smith jumped from a second-floor window to escape an Arlington house fire in April. When he learned his mother was still inside, he disregarded his own safety and rushed back inside.
“You don’t get family back,” said Smith, 27, who was sleeping in the Arlington home when it caught fire.
“I woke up, my room was full of black smoke,” he said.
He made his way to the window and jumped when his mother’s boyfriend told him to — but soon learned that in the confusion his mom hadn’t made it out.
Smith, a real estate broker, ran into the garage where the fire was just starting, then had to crawl inside the house to find his mother. “It was like walking into an oven, and it just dropped me instantly to the floor,” he told the Red Cross recently.
His mother, he said, had passed out in a closet. “She thought it was the door out. She couldn’t see anything,” he said.
Unconscious, she was found next to a wall that was on fire, with most of her clothing burned off. “That’s the first point I realized that I was getting burned pretty bad,” he said, describing how the skin slipped off his hand as he grabbed her.
While he dragged his mother outside, her boyfriend called 911 from a neighbor’s place.
Mother and son were rushed to Harborview Medical Center’s Regional Burn Center. Smith said he was there six days for treatment of burns to his arms. His mother, who suffered severe smoke inhalation, spent more than a month at the Seattle hospital.
After several surgeries, she still has trouble breathing and her speech is raspy, her son said.
The house was a total loss. “Through insurance, they got another house,” said Smith, who has since purchased a home of his own.
He has hope his mother’s condition will continue to improve.
In November, according to The Arlington Times, Arlington Fire Chief Dave Kraski presented Smith with a Phoenix Award and honored two Arlington firefighters and paramedics for their actions during the same blaze.
CPR Award: Matt Stirk
Matt Stirk and his wife were just leaving Las Tres Marias in Monroe when someone in the Mexican restaurant had an urgent need for his lifesaving skills.
“We were walking out the front door. I heard somebody yell, you know, ‘Help call 911,’” said Stirk, an infrastructure systems analyst with the Snohomish County PUD.
For Louise Fugier and her husband, Dennis, Dec. 18, 2018, had been planned as a date night. The evening turned terrifying when Dennis Fugier went into cardiac arrest. Slumped over in his chair, his face turned purple from lack of oxygen.
Another woman was checking the man’s pulse and helping with CPR, and someone called 911. Stirk, who had taken CPR training through work, immediately started chest compressions.
He counted — 30 compressions — then checked for a pulse. “And there was nothing,” he told the Red Cross. “I was like, all right, we’re going again. And 30 more chest compressions.”
After several attempts and no pulse, the man was turning gray. “And I said, ‘Hey, we are going again,’” Stirk said.
In about six minutes, after he’d done more than 250 chest compressions, “I heard the sirens — the best sound I’ve ever heard in my life,” the 43-year-old Stirk said.
Paramedics started an IV and gave the man an electric shock to restart his heart.
In March, Snohomish County Fire District 7 presented Stirk and Muishe Opulencia with a Community Hero Award for helping the man.
“He’s doing great,” said Stirk, adding that he met with Dennis Fugier about a month after the Monroe man suffered the cardiac arrest. “We kept blood running through his body.”
Now, Stirk said, “I go around my work and tell my story. I didn’t give him breaths, just simple compressions until first responders got there.”
Stop the Bleed Award: Michelle Foster and Joe Dumm
Michelle Foster is a Coast Guard reservist and an emergency department nurse at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett. Both roles turned out to be lucky for two motorcycle riders badly hurt in a crash with an SUV.
On July 27, Foster had just finished two weeks of Reserve duty, so she wasn’t at work at the hospital. She and Joe Dumm were driving in Lake Stevens at about 5:30 p.m. when they came upon an accident scene at the intersection of Highway 9 and 20th Street SE.
Another man was trying to help the male victim, who had lost part of his leg. Foster knew to take a leather belt off the man on the ground, and put it tightly around his upper thigh to stop his bleeding.
It wasn’t until they heard the injured man yell, “I love you, babe,” that they realized a second person was hurt. A female victim who had suffered trauma was being helped by another woman. With dog leashes and a stick, a tourniquet was made to stanch the woman’s bleeding.
Medics arrived, and both people needed immediate blood transfusions at Providence hospital. They survived, thanks to the skills and quick action of Foster and Dumm.
Both have military training, and Foster had recently taken a Stop the Bleed course — which she recommends for everyone.
Water Rescue Award: Christopher Harrott
It was about 5:30 a.m. Feb. 2 when firefighter Christopher Harrott and others in his Lake Stevens Fire crew were called to a car accident on Ebey Island.
A car was on its roof in a ditch, and full of water.
“I felt that if there was someone in there, that it was going to be a body recovery,” said Harrott, 31, a firefighter and EMT with the department since 2013.
Hearing a woman’s screams coming from the car, they quickly brainstormed how to save her life. Among the crew, there were decades of experience — but Harrott had recently been through rescue swimmer training.
“We did our training at West Pierce Fire & Rescue,” he said, adding that Lake Stevens Fire has now developed its own Rapid Entry Rescue Swimmer Program.
Trained to act quickly, Harrott entered the 40-degree water.
“The cold was so cold that it made your skin burn,” he told the Red Cross. “It was really hard to hold my breath at first.”
The engine of the upside-down car was tipped down a bit, so there was an air pocket near its back seats. “Fortunately, she found her way there,” he said.
He couldn’t hold his breath for long, but kept going back — despite zero visibility.
Putting on equipment normally used in a fire rather than water, he managed to locate the woman. Eventually, the crew cut off the back door to get the woman out of the car. She was transported to a hospital to be treated for extreme hypothermia.
Harrott didn’t know the details of how the accident occurred. With her family, the woman later visited the fire station to express her gratitude.
Family CPR Award: Nya Palek and John Chenoweth
Nyabuony “Nya” Palek’s career has been in nursing. But when it was her own son needing help, the Marysville mother was thankful for the assistance of 911 operator John Chenoweth.
On the night of April 8, Will Jallang, then a high school senior who’d been a standout basketball player for Marysville Getchell, was experiencing heart arrhythmia. The 18-year-old was face down, and gasping for air.
While Palek had often done CPR on the job, she told the Red Cross that when her son was in crisis “I panicked.”
Another son in the house called 911. Chenoweth, a dispatcher with Snocom 911, answered that call.
“I’m the lifeline,” Chenoweth told the Red Cross.
He told the Marysville mother to do chest compressions, and over the phone could hear her doing them. “I felt like he was there with me, and telling me you’re doing everything right,” she said.
When help arrived, Marysville and Getchell Fire District 22 firefighters and Marysville police moved Jallang to an open area where paramedics provided lifesaving treatment.
The teen spent eight days at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett, where his mother works. There, he celebrated an offer of an Everett Community College basketball scholarship. Along with an EvCC jersey, he wears an internal defibrillator in the event his heart acts up again.
Commitment to Community Award: Jayne Gracom
For about five years, Jayne Gracom has volunteered as a blood drive coordinator with the American Red Cross in Everett. The Mukilteo woman treats blood donors as guests of honor, and keeps in touch by expressing thanks for their lifesaving gift.
“I want them to feel appreciated,” she said. “Hopefully they have a good experience when they come here.”
A registered nurse, Gracom tries to be present for every blood drive at the local Red Cross headquarters on Lombard Avenue.
One blood donor let the Red Cross know about receiving an email that delivered thanks and more: “It went on to say that my blood was actually sent to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, Maryland, and then it was used for someone there. I cannot tell you the impact that had on me,” the donor said. “I certainly felt valued that day.”
According to the local Red Cross, blood collection has nearly doubled in the past year.
“The donors are the heroes. They’re the ones that come in, roll their sleeves up and donate,” Gracom told the Red Cross. “And I just love them for it.”
Claire Waite Humanitarian Award: Tulalip Tribes
For nearly 20 years, the Tulalip Tribes and the American Red Cross serving Snohomish County have maintained a close relationship. Today, Ashlynn Danielson, who is with the Tulalip Tribes Office of Emergency Management, is a member of the local Red Cross board.
The relationship was strong before the 2014 Oso mudslide that claimed 43 lives. And after the disaster, the tribes stepped up to help the Red Cross with donations of clothing, food, places to stay and more to help victims.
Since that time, according to the Red Cross, “the relationship has blossomed as the two entities worked together to make our community safer, better prepared and supported in times of need.”