First responders who saved lives during the deadly Montecito mudslides were honored in a special ceremony Tuesday.
The Montecito Fire Department presented the first and only valor awards in the history of the fire department to Firefighter Paramedic Andy Rupp and Wildland Fire Specialist Maeve Juarez.
Juarez was patrolling when the debris flow hit. She says she had just left San Ysidro Bridge 60 seconds before it was swept away, and she saw a fireball in her rearview mirror. She turned around and headed towards the fire, where she found 200-foot flames from gas lines, as well as several homes on fire. She came across two people who had jumped from the second floor of a burning home. A man had life-threatening burn injuries, and a woman had fractured her feet and lost her clothing during the jump. Juarez gave the woman the clothes off her back and then carried her to safety.
Firefighter Paramedic Rupp was involved in search and rescue efforts around Hot Springs and Olive Mill Roads. Multiple homes in the area had been swept away. During the recovery efforts, he heard a teenager, Lauren Cantin, crying for help from underneath a debris pile. He and his crew dug through the dirt by hand in order to find her without igniting natural gas. Rupp was the first to reach her 10 feet underground, and he was able to cut his way down to her and save her. He says he didn’t leave Cantin’s side until she was taken away in an ambulance.
“The medal of valor is the absolute definition of courage and bravery. Receiving this award means the recipient risked their own life to save another and did so both with willful disregard for their own life and safety,” said Montecito Fire Department Chief Chip Hickman.
“You inspire us. You absolutely amaze me, and I know the people of California and the people of this community thank you for your service and your dedication to this community,” said Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson.
First responders made more than 900 rescues in the first 12 hours of the mudslides.
21 people were killed in the debris flow in January.