View Royal Fire Chief Paul Hurst was home in bed when he got the call about a house fire at 3 a.m.
When he arrived on scene, the Paddock Place house was in flames and the three occupants were not all accounted for. Quickly firefighters began a search for an eight-year-old girl, Katrina Van Winkle, who was trapped somewhere inside.
A short time later, assistant chief John Chow broke the front door open and spotted a body in the smoke-filled hallway.
Hurst, nearby at the time, made the decision to go in and try to retrieve the girl. It took him three attempts – he wasn’t wearing breathing apparatus, to finally get her out. When he laid her down on the front lawn she wasn’t breathing, so he performed CPR to revive her.
The chief’s actions March 14, 2013, which saved the life of the View Royal elementary student, were recognized Tuesday night when Hurst was given the B.C. Fire Fighter Medal of Bravery.
The incident, from arrival on scene to getting Katrina out and whisked away by ambulance, took about eight minutes, said Hurst, who was quick to credit his fellow firefighters for their efforts that night.
“You had 23 people doing 23 different things and if any one of them does something differently than they did, the result might have been different,” he said.
For the brief ceremony, View Royal’s council chambers were full, almost half with uniformed members of fire, police and other emergency services.
Katrina was on hand with her grandma and great grandma, who were also in the fire, to see Hurst receive his medal from B.C. Attorney General and Justice Minister Suzanne Anton. Katrina also presented him with a token of her appreciation.
Although the fire happened a year ago, Hurst still remembers it like it was yesterday.
“It makes an imprint and you never forget it,” he said.
Tim Pley, Port Alberni fire chief and president of the Fire Chiefs’ Association of B.C., said first responders get involved in hopes they’ll have a chance to serve the community. That also comes with great responsibility, he added, which Hurst accepted fully on the night he saved a life.
“As good as he feels now, he’ll feel even better about it 20 years from now,” Pley said.