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.
Sturgill said transporting the man was difficult because of his size. "He was a very big man and the helicopter became uncontrollable once we got his weight on it," he said.
After the first attempt by Poindexter to rescue the man, he too fell back into the water as they headed toward the highway. Sturgill repositioned the helicopter to allow Poindexter to again grab onto Krittenbrink.
Poindexter and Howard held Krittenbrink in a seated position on the skid as Sturgill returned the helicopter to the highway. Both husband and wife were exhausted, but recovered following the ordeal.
Reflecting on the Incident
When the rescue was complete, Poindexter received a call from his wife.
She said, "I've been watching you on TV."
At the time of the incident, the entire crew wasn't aware they were being taped.
"I didn't know the helicopters were up there filming," Poindexter said. "I'm just glad I didn't do anything that looked too bad.
Sturgill said that as a pilot he's never had to use an aircraft to make a rescue attempt like that. "It's an observation helicopter," he said. "If you have two people on board you're within limitations, but when you have three crew members on board and have to pull aboard victims ... It's nothing you'd ever intend or plan on doing.
"In retrospect, it was the only choice we could make," Sturgill said. "You could either choose to watch someone die or react."
Poindexter said he just "did want I needed to do," and that while the recognition has been nice, being able to rescue the couple was the most important thing.
Another thing he got out of the expience was new friends. Before the incident he had never met either trooper before, but after attending many awards ceremonies together, they have become close.
Sturgill said the awards and recognition are something that comes with rescues such as this one, but are something he could just as easily do without.
"I just like to do my job and do it well, I don't really like to steer towards the limelight," he said. "The incident itself caused some issues for a lot of the personnel involved. I guess the recognition helps in some ways."
Other Carnegie Medal Awardees
Scott McGrain:The Horseheads, N.Y. police officer responded to a house fire where a massive explosion of leaking natural gas demolished the structure. McGrain removed 12-year-old Andrew Peterson from the rubble. Andrew was hospitalized for treatment of severe injuries and burns and required surgery.
Walter Beresford:The off-duty Belleville fire captain rescued 70-old Frances Greene from a two-story fire. Beresford saw flames coming from the bedroom window and he ran to the house with another man and forced entry through the front door. He moved the woman to the first floor and was assisted by firefighters when they arrived. Both Beresford and Greene were hospitalized with second-degree burns.
Timothy Charles:He was one of three Scranton police officers who arrived at a house fire before firefighters. Intense heat and smoke forced them out, but Charles reentered, moving upstairs and finding 81-year-old Helen Lashinski. She would recover from smoke inhalation and burns.