Aug. 17, 2016 – Fairfax, Va. – During the deadliest disaster on record in Nepal, two Urban Search and Rescue teams from opposite ends of the United States came together to perform at their best. Their courageous, lifesaving actions have earned them the prestigious 2016 International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC)/Motorola Solutions Ben Franklin Award for Valor.

This award recognizes firefighters around the world for their expert training, leadership, heroic actions and safe practices. Named after Benjamin Franklin, the nation’s first fire chief, it is the highest honor bestowed by IAFC.

The award will be presented at the Fire-Rescue International (FRI) general session on Aug. 18 in San Antonio, Texas.

The honorees include:
  • USA-1, Fairfax, Va. County Fire and Rescue Department Urban Search and Rescue. Team members are Lieutenant Robert Garza, Lieutenant Lawrence Mullin and Technician Ryland Chapman.
  • USA-2, Los Angeles, Calif. County Fire and Rescue Department’s Urban Search and Rescue. Team members are Captain Gerald Gonzales, Firefighter Daniel McKeen and Firefighter Paramedic Matthew Prasch.
A joint nomination to recognize both of these teams was submitted by Chief Richard Bowers, Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department, and Chief Daryl L. Osby, Los Angeles County Fire Department.

Heroic first responders team-up in Nepal

In late spring 2015, two devastating earthquakes hit a rural region of mountainous Nepal, killing over 8,500 people. The first 7.8-magnitude quake in late April demolished more than half a million homes, most in remote areas cut off from emergency medical care. Just as citizens began to recover, a second quake striked in May, less than 50 miles east of Kathmandu.

Working as part of a small team airlifted into the remote village of Singati, USA-1 and USA-2 treated scores of injured civilians. In the midst of their medical efforts, they received reports of people trapped inside a collapsed structure. Team members raced to a caved-in building to look for signs of life.

Technician Chapman, Lieutenant Mullin and Firefighter Specialist McKeen repeatedly entered the unstable building to find a teenage boy who was trapped inside. After they found the boy who was sadly killed in the quake, they worked tirelessly to save the life of a Nepalese woman who was caught between collapsed floors.
The crew’s rescue efforts were complicated not only by the instability of the structure on a steep hillside, but also repeated aftershocks which triggered landslides. Given the high altitude and the limits of what could be brought in by aircrafts, they worked with a limited amount of basic rescue tools.

The members of USA-1 and USA-2 acted selflessly to save a life under extremely hazardous conditions in a severely damaged area. In nominating both crews for the IAFC/Motorola Solutions Ben Franklin Award for Valor, Chief Richard Bowers of Fairfax County said, “Despite primitive tools, because of their training, skill and ability to work together as a team, a woman is alive today.”

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