SAN RAMON — Thanks to the bravery of eight San Ramon Valley firefighters, Dr. Robert Litman is alive and seeing patients again.
The immunology and allergy specialist thanked the crew Wednesday night for rescuing him from his blazing Blackhawk home the night of June 22 — the same blaze that killed Litman's 19-year-old son.
"Instead of being a second victim, I am a survivor," Litman told those gathered at the San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District's regular board meeting.
"You are my heroes," he said.
Surrounded by thick, toxic smoke, five firefighters searched in the darkness for Litman as the roof collapsed around them, San Ramon Valley Fire Chief Richard Price said. Three other firefighters held down hose lines inside, keeping the rest of the team as safe as possible.
Litman was found unconscious on a bathroom floor. Firefighters got him out of the house and to a paramedic team outside, where he was treated and flown by helicopter to a hospital.
Investigators believe the fire started in the attic of the home in the 2900 block of Deer Meadow Drive, and remained undetected until debris fell through the second-floor ceiling. The cause of the blaze is still being investigated.
The five firefighters involved in the search — Capts. Mike Avery, Scott Carrillo and Alan Gwiazdon, and engineers Paul Jannisse and Rich Perry — received the Medal of Valor, the department's highest honor.
Litman told attendees he'll always remember June 22 as the night he lost his son. Benjamin Litman, 19, died of smoke inhalation.
Firefighters wished they could have done more that night, Price said, and will continue to support the family.
"We will walk alongside this family as long as they need us," Price said.
Litman said he knew the firefighters did all they could.
"They saved my life," Litman said after the ceremony. "If it would have been possible, they would have saved (Benjamin)."
Carrillo and Ybarra, said they didn't really think about the dangers around them. They were just doing their jobs.
"We don't do this for the medals," Carrillo. "You ask anybody up there, nobody wanted a medal."
Hearing Litman speak and see him sitting Wednesday night with his wife and daughters was enough, they said.
"That's the reward right there," Ybarra said.
Contact Sophia Kazmi at 925-847-2122. Follow her at Twitter.com/sophiakazmi.