When firefighter Howard Orr fell on a live power line last August while fighting a brush fire in Lompoc Valley, the thousands of volts flowing through his body shocked fellow firefighter Jonathan Veale as he tried to rescue his comrade.
Santa Barbara County Fire Chief John Scherrei said Veale made several attempts to pull Orr from the downed line, which was hidden by a pile of logs the pair was trying to remove from their fire truck’s path. The electricity jolted him back with each attempt, but Veale ran to grab shovels from some other approaching firefighters, who helped him pry Orr from the line.
On Tuesday, Dec. 2, Scherrei presented Veale with the Medal of Valor award at an emotional ceremony during a board of supervisors meeting, only the fourth time the award has been issued in the history of the department.
A packed crowd of other firefighters and their families gave Veale a standing ovation, after which Veale thanked his family and the board for their recognition.
“I want to emphasize the power of electricity in this rescue,” Scherrei said. “This wasn’t a benign attempt to pull someone off a wire. The rescuer was in a position where he placed himself in severe jeopardy. We lost a firefighter in the same manner earlier this year, so when the call came in and we heard ‘electrocution’ it sent a shiver through our bones.”
Scherrei choked back tears as he recalled meeting Veale for the first time, when he explained to the new firefighter the responsibilities and risks that come with wearing the badge. He said the Medal of Valor is the most prestigious award given out in the fire service.
“It is awarded to firefighters who save a life voluntarily and with an extreme degree of risk,” he said.
Orr, who, with his search-and-rescue dog, aided rescue efforts at the World Trade Center in New York City after the 2001 terrorist attacks, returned to duty at Fire Station 11 last month.
“It really is a miracle,” Scherrei said.