2 receive AFD's highest honor after Royal Suite Lodge fire
Anchorage firefighter Justin Milette is quick to say that he's not deserving of the highest award an Anchorage firefighter can receive.
"We're just doing our job," Milette said Friday.
Milette and Andy Harvey, an AFD engineer, both recently received the Firefighter Medal of Honor recently for what they did in the Royal Suite Lodge fire last February which left three people -- Laura Kramer, 70, Teuaililo Nua, 38, and Vivian Hall, 68 -- dead.
Fast-moving flames at the Minnesota Drive apartment complex forced some people to jump from windows before firefighters arrived.
When Milette and Harvey arrived they saw a woman leaning out a smoke filled second-story window. They put up a ladder and got her out. That woman told the firefighters another woman was inside.
Milette and Harvey, wearing breathing apparatus, climbed through the window and found a heavyset woman. They recall her being unconscious and had trouble moving her to the window. They kept trying to move her as the room got hotter and hotter.
"They were asking for more tools and more options and we were bringing them to them," said AFD Capt. Jason Dolph.
Harvey and Milette say they were told to leave the burning building, but they refused.
"We hadn't given up hope of trying to get her out of there," Harvey said.
But then a sliding glass door to the apartment broke from the heat of the flames and fire roared into the room.
"It went from a few hundred degrees to probably close to a thousand or more," Milette said.
By this time, firefighters say flames had spread to the window where they entered. At that point, they came to the grim realization that the woman was dead and crawled back out the window.
"I remember when Engineer Harvey came out and he was talking through his mask ... Engineer Harvey said, 'There's still a victim up there,'" Dolph said. "I said, 'I know -- we need to move on.' And he says, 'I think we can (retrieve her),' and I finally had to say it's time to move on."
Dolph said flames were shooting out the window less than a minute after the men had crawled out of it.
The two women the firefighters tried to save died, as did a third person. But dozens of other residents inside the building made it out alive.
The men, along with several other firefighters, received honors during an Anchorage Assembly meeting this week. Harvey says he accepted the award on behalf of all of his firefighting brothers and sisters.
AFD says the last time an Anchorage firefighter was honored with a similar award was in 2007 when a firefighter saved two children in an Eagle River fire.
The Royal Suite Lodge fire remains an active homicide investigation, according to Anchorage police, with no arrests so far.
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