Nearly 10 months after the Montecito mudslides killed 20 people, heroes of that tragedy were honored for rescuing a young girl.
Friends, family, and fellow firefighters attended the ceremony at Santa Barbara City Fire Station 1 on Thursday, as three firefighters received a rare award for their efforts.
“The biggest drive for all of us is to make a difference,” said Tony Pighetti, Acting Admin Battalion Chief. “On the morning of January 9, these guys did just that.”
On the chaotic and devastating day, firefighter Alex Kargbo, engineer Matt Gritt, and Captain Kevin Hokom found 12-year-old Summer Corey buried underneath the mud.
They could hear a snoring sound come from the mud.
“I grabbed something that was different and went to wipe off the mud and see skin,” said Hokom. “And she wasn’t breathing so there wasn’t a lot of time. So at some point, no time to be gentle, we just helped Alex and yanked on her and she popped free.”
They carried her a quarter of a mile through knee and chest-high mud.
“On that day, you were the sharpest arrows,” said Chaplain Jerry Gray. “You made the task. They sent you down range and you brought home a little gal.”
Corey’s two sisters, her twin Sawyer and 25-year-old Morgan Christine, did not survive that day.
Meanwhile, Corey’s recovery took weeks in the hospital. Her heroes awaited word of her health.
“I remember I had a text that said Summer was awake, and she wanted pizza, and I thought that was the best news I had heard,” Hokom recalled.
Corey presented the three men with the Stephen J. Masto Valor Award, an honor named after the firefighter who sacrificed his life battling a wildfire in 1999.
“Alex said ‘my request is to highlight the strength, the strong will, and the fight when talking about Summer,'” Hokom said about the texts the three men exchanged before the ceremony. “‘She is my hero, as far as the rescue, anyone of us would have done the same thing. She deserves the award.'”
For Corey, seeing the men who rescued her brought a smile to her face.
“It just makes me really happy,” she said.