GOLDEN VALLEY - Robert Davies is the second northern Arizonan to be recognized for his heroic lifesaving efforts here on Dec. 21, 2012.
The 48-year-old Davies placed himself in harm's way when he entered a burning home through the window into a dark, smoke-filled bedroom to save an elderly woman who was trapped inside.
Golden Valley Fire Chief Thomas O'Donohue was the first to be recognized when he was awarded the Benjamin Franklin Award for Valor this year. That award recognizes firefighters around the world for their expert training, leadership, heroic actions and safe practices.
The soft-spoken Davies is one of only 77 in 2013 to receive a Carnegie Hero Fund medal for extraordinary civilian heroism. The Carnegie Hero Fund Commission honors civilians in the United States and Canada who risk their lives to an extraordinary degree saving or attempting to save others. This year's awards bring the total number to 9,653 since the Pittsburgh-based Fund's inception in 1904.
According to Commission President Mark Laskow, each of the awardees or their survivors also receives a financial grant. Throughout the 109-year history of the fund established by industrial-philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, more than $35.6 million has been given out in one-time grants, scholarship aid, death benefits and continuing assistance.
It was just over a year ago when Davies looked out of his home and observed thick smoke coming from his neighbor's home located about a half-mile away.
The fire had broken out in the living room and flames were quickly spreading throughout the home, filling the house with dense smoke and trapping 92-year-old Charlotte Sowards.
When Davies arrived and learned an elderly woman was trapped inside, he climbed a stepladder to one of the bedroom's small windows.
"I dove in head-first, because that was the only way to get in," Davies said. "It was such a small window, and the whole time I was in there, I wasn't second-guessing anything. I felt I had to do the right thing, and the right thing was to save this woman's life."
He grabbed onto Sowards to support her so that she could breathe.
The fire chief, who had arrived about then, also entered the room through one of the bedroom windows. Once inside, Davies and O'Donohue made repeated attempts to lift the elderly woman out of the window to safety, but were unsuccessful. With flames starting to breach the bedroom through the door, Davies and the chief took Sowards to another window in that room, but again they failed in their efforts to lift her. O'Donohue then braced his shoulder beneath her, and as Davies lifted her by an arm, the men boosted her through the window to neighbor Paul Bissonette, who was standing outside the home below the window.
As soon as both men exited through the window and to safety, flames engulfed the entire bedroom in a flashover - the near-simultaneous ignition of most of the directly exposed combustible material in an enclosed area.
Sowards required hospital treatment, as did the chief, for smoke inhalation. Davies also suffered smoke inhalation and was treated at the scene.
"I was part of a team, with Fire Chief Thomas O'Donohue and neighbor Paul Bissonette," Davies said.
According to O'Donohue, Davies is "clearly the hero" in the situation, noting not many neighbors would risk their lives that like.
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