Eight firefighters honored for river rescue

They’ll tell you they were just doing their job, but on Friday a group of eight local firefighters received a statewide honor for going “above and beyond the call of duty.”

“We risk a lot to save a lot, and we certainly felt that, that day,” Lawrence paramedic Mark Parker said.

Parker and fellow firefighters at Lawrence’s Fire Station No. 3 were presented with the Tom McGaughey Award for their heroism during a daring river rescue on June 5, 2009.

The award is named for former Wichita Fire Chief Tom McGaughey, who died fighting a fire in November 1968.

The Lawrence firefighters were among the first on the scene of the rescue near the Bowersock Dam on the Kansas River. A 14-year-old Lawrence boy had slipped into the water and was stuck under a large log.

“We each took turns going into the water and holding each other — giving each other physical support because the current wore us out,” Parker said.

The firefighters worked frantically to free the teen from the log, fighting the force of the current the entire time. Parker said at that point, their training in swift water rescues really kicked in.

“The child was under the log about 10 to 15 feet out into the water, and it’s amazing how much training plays a big part,” Parker said. “Just subconsciously you do your job, and I’m just glad it was a favorable outcome.”

Parker said the boy was lifeless when he was pulled from the water. Paramedics were able to resuscitate him at the scene, before he was flown to Children’s Mercy Hospital.

Parker went to visit the child in the hospital a couple of days after the incident. The boy made a full recovery.

“When you sit back and reflect on what we did and what transpired, I think everybody has a sense of relief and a sense of pride,” Parker said. “It’s what we do.”

The firefighters received the honor Friday during the annual conference of the Kansas State Association of Fire Chiefs in Manhattan.

In addition to Parker, Lawrence firefighters Sandy Herd, Leo Leiker, Greg Murray, Will Halligan, Troy Gourley, Kevin Fussell and Ryan Kelly were also honored.

“It was an exhilarating time that day,” Capt. Sandy Herd said after receiving the award. “I have often reflected since then on the heroic actions of my crew and all of the people involved.”

And according to Parker, it’s a day the crew won’t soon forget.

“Absolutely we’ll never forget that,” he said. “We continue to talk about it to this day.”