Four firefighters from the small northwest Iowa town of Milford were honored at the statehouse Tuesday for their bravery in a dramatic fire rescue over three years ago. Milford Fire Captain Russ Bell says the fire on September 30, 2011 destroyed the local Rodeway Inn hotel.
Bell and three of his fellow firefighters went inside the hotel after learning three people were trapped in a second story room. “Casey Carpenter and I located the room, made entrance, found the three individuals, and were able to get them out safely,” Bell said. In addition to Bell, firefighters Casey Carpenter, Doug Heller, and Josh Lieb were presented Tuesday with the 2014 Sullivan Brothers Award of Valor during a ceremony in the Governor’s Office.
The three people rescued from the room were not seriously injured, but Bell said they would have been killed if not for his and the other firefighters’ actions. “When we opened up the door to their room, the backside wall was ablaze, so they didn’t have long,” Bell said. “They had done the right thing of entrapping themselves in the bathroom and tucking towels under (the door) to keep the smoke out as much as they could. But, the roof and back wall were going and they probably had five or ten minutes tops if we hadn’t been able to locate them.”
Bell, a Sioux City native who’s been a firefighter in Milford since 2006, did not learn the names of the three adults he helped rescue and hasn’t heard from them since. Bell said the incident had a “big impact” on his life and it’s something he’ll never forget.
“It became a realization, you know, why I do what I do…to realize that I’ve changed somebody’s life forever, even if I never see them or talk to them again, I know within myself that I’ve changed their lives forever and nobody can take that from me,” Bell said.
Investigators with the Iowa State Fire Marshal’s Office were not able to determine a cause for that hotel fire. The owners of the Rodeway Inn rebuilt and reopened the hotel about a year-and-a-half later.
Bill Hook, Chief of the Cambridge Fire and Rescue Department, was also honored at Tuesday’s ceremony.
This summer, Hook rescued two young girls from Ballard Creek, which was filled with rushing flood waters following heavy rains. The Sullivan Brothers Award of Valor is named for five brothers from Waterloo who were killed in World War II.
Bill Hook photo courtesy of the City of Cambridge