SAN JOSE -- A year ago Friday, San Jose fire engineer Jamie Kerin was on top of a burning apartment building, cutting a hole to release hot smoke and make things safer for firefighters battling the blaze from below, when he felt the roof give. In a flash, he had fallen through to the attic completely engulfed in flames.
With some quick thinking, luck and help from firefighter Richard Crawford, Kerin managed to scramble back onto the roof to safety, and although badly burned, has since returned to work.
Later that year, San Jose Fire Capt. Lorin Engler had a similar brush with disaster when a burning roof collapsed on him and knocked him unconscious while he was running a hose into burning apartments on Thanksgiving. He too survived, though neck injuries have kept him from returning to the job.
For their sacrifices and courage, all three were honored Friday in a ceremony by the Exchange Club of San Jose. Engler and Kerin received the group's highest honor, the Blue and Gold Wounded in Service Medal "for injuries received in the line of duty, suffered under circumstances requiring great courage." Crawford, who was not injured, also was honored with a special commendation, the Book of Golden Deeds, for courage shown in rescuing Kerin.
"This is the kind of dedication San Jose receives from its firefighters every day," said Fire Chief William McDonald.
Phillip Griego, the Exchange Club's president, said the awards are a "powerful
"I'm grateful that they're here; I'm grateful for their service," Reed said.
Kerin and Crawford were responding to a four-alarm fire at an apartment building on Underwood Drive at 2:30 a.m., March 15, 2012, when they went to cut a hole in the roof to release hot gas and smoke.
But as soon as they cut the hole, the roof began to cave in. Kerin fell through to the attic below, and immediately felt his body start to burn. Crawford, who had reached a ladder to safety, turned back to help Kerin as he pulled himself back up to the roof from the attic.
Kerin spent 11 days in the hospital with second-degree burns to his face, chest, hands and lower body, and third-degree burns to his left hand and right wrist, requiring skin grafts and months of rehabilitation. He returned to full duty in August.
Engler was responding to an 8:30 p.m. fire at apartments on Willowleaf Drive Nov. 22 with other firefighters from Engine 7 when he took a hose into the burning building to fight flames on the second floor. Suddenly, ceiling joists and Sheetrock fell from the burning roof and knocked him out.
Engler regained consciousness and quickly alerted 911 dispatchers on his radio that he needed help. A fellow firefighter found him and pulled him to safety. But Engler spent three days in the hospital for a concussion and three injured neck vertebrae. He continues to suffer headaches, nausea and neck pain and has been unable to return to duty.
In written remarks to the Exchange Club, Kerin said he survived in part to a combination of "perseverance, luck and training," and that the brush with disaster gave him "a greater understanding of the important things in life."
"For everything that went wrong that morning," Kerin wrote, "just enough went right."
Crawford was unable to attend Friday's ceremony but in written remarks said he was "thankful that I was partnered with Jamie that morning."
The San Jose Exchange Club has been giving the Blue and Gold award to police officers for decades and to firefighters since 2006. Four other San Jose firefighters have received the award.
After receiving their medals, Engler and Kerin each made the same brief remark:
Contact John Woolfolk at 408-975-9346. Follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/johnwoolfolk1.