Two Oklahoma troopers and the fire chief of Kingfisher, Okla. were recently received a national award for their heroic helicopter rescue last year of a couple stranded in flood waters.
Carnegie Hero Fund Commission has honored the three first responders, Troopers Brian Scott Sturgill and Joseph Edward Howard and Fire Chief Randy Poindexter, along with 22 other individuals when they presented the third installment of this year's awards on Oct. 2.
The Carnegie Medal is awarded to those who risk their lives while saving or attempting to save the lives of others. Some awarded are first responders and other are civilians.
A total of 9,224 people have been award the medal since the Pittsburgh-based fund's inception in 1904. During the existence of the award, $30.9 million has been given in one-time grants, scholarship aid, death benefits and continuing assistance.
As flood waters wreaked havoc on parts of Oklahoma on Aug. 19, 2007, first responders rushed to the aid of civilians trapped by the aftermath of the storm.
Poindexter, along with Lt. Ryan Gibson and Captain Richard Butts from the Kingfisher Fire Department, were performing water rescues by boat when it broke down.
An Oklahoma Highway patrol helicopter -- piloted by Sturgill and co-piloted by Howard -- soon picked up Poindexter and Butts, leaving Gibson with the boat. From there they would travel to a house where a mother and her four young children were trapped.
Following the rescue, Poindexter and Butts used a life raft to bring the family to higher elevation where they were taken to town by a state trooper.
That's when Sturgill and Howard got word of the couple trapped in a pickup truck. Sturgill said they told the firefighters they needed one of them to come along. Poindexter didn't think twice.
"He was like 'Let's go' that was his attitude" the whole time, Sturgill said. "He's truly an honorable man."
Sturgill told Poindexter, "Get in the bird, we need to do it now," and they were off.
Poindexter said it was only his third time on a helicopter and he said he decided to fall back on his water rescue training if anything happened. "In my mindset, if something went wrong, I would get off the helicopter and start swimming with them," he said.
The pilot said they didn't have a long time to devise a rescue plan and that "in a nutshell we came up with a plan to fly out there, do a recognizance, come back, rig up our vehicle and attempt the rescue."
The crew planned to take Poindexter out and drop him in the back of the pickup, and suspend the basket from the helicopter.
However, when they were on the ground, they got the report that the truck was sinking. When they got to the scene, the truck was completely submerged. After assessing the situation, the troopers wouldn't allow Poindexter to enter the water and didn't believe it was possible to rescue both victims.
"It's unlike some of the situations you find yourself in as a police officer," Sturgill said. "We sat there and looked down at the water with dread for what seemed like an eternity."
The crew decided to focus on the rescue the woman, Bernice Krittenbrink, since she was the lightest and attempt to drag her to calmer water and then return for her husband, LeRoy.
Sturgill positioned the helicopter close to the water as Poindexter positioned himself on one of the landing skids. Howard directed the pilot as he flew the aircraft closer to the woman. Poindexter was then able to grasp onto Krittenbrink, but was unable to pull her into the helicopter.
Not before long, her strength weakened and she fell back into the water. Sturgill repositioned the helicopter and dipped the skid into the water to snag her. Poindexter assisted her into a seated position on the skid and Howard held to her still. The crew then flew to the highway to safety.
When they returned for LeRoy Krittenbrink, he was floating in the water inert.