MFPD Presents Two Medals of Valor

By Kelly Mahan Herrick   |   November 8, 2018
Maeve Juarez and Andy Rupp with MFPD chief officers Al Gregson, Scott Chapman, Kevin Taylor, Chip Hickman, Travis Ederer, and Aaron Briner

On Tuesday, October 30, Montecito Fire Protection District hosted a special awards ceremony at Montecito Union School. The formality was to honor two MFPD firefighters for their courage and bravery during the January 9 debris flow. Wildland specialist Maeve Juarez and firefighter/paramedic Andrew Rupp were each given a Medal of Valor award, which is the highest honor awarded to public service personnel in the nation. This is the first and only time in MFPD’s 100-year history that a Medal of Valor has been awarded.

“The Medal of Valor represents the absolute definition of courage and bravery,” said Montecito Fire chief Chip Hickman to the large audience, which included multiple dignitaries, elected officials, leaders from neighboring fire departments, as well as the MFPD Board of Directors. “Receiving this award means that the recipient risked their own life to save another, and they did so with willful disregard for their own life and safety.”

Medal of Valor award recipient Andy Rupp, with Lauren Cantin and Kim Cantin. Andy saved Lauren on January 9, when he dug her out of a 10-foot debris pile following the catastrophic mudslide.

Chief Hickman gave a poignant account of the events of the early morning hours of January 9, 2018.

Maeve, who came to the District from the Forest Service, where she was a division chief, stepped up to the challenge of leading the eastern division during the expected rainstorm that night. Maeve was patrolling her division when rainfall reached .59 inches in five minutes, triggering a debris flow of historic proportions in Montecito. Maeve had recently left the San Ysidro Creek Bridge 60 seconds prior to the bridge being swept away, and in her rear-view mirror, she saw a tremendously large fireball. Without hesitation, Maeve quickly turned her vehicle around and headed back toward the flame. 

“With little concern for her own safety, Maeve engaged the area, encountering 200-foot flames coming from the ruptured high-pressure gas line, several homes on fire, and many destroyed from the debris flow,” Hickman said.

While calling for resources, and directing her crews into the area, Maeve encountered Jon and Terry Keating. The Keatings had just jumped from the second story of their burning home; Jon sustained life-threatening burn injuries, and Terry couldn’t walk due to multiple fractures in both feet. Additionally, Terry’s clothing was torn off while escaping their burning home. Maeve extricated both Jon and Terry from the hazardous area, gave Terry the clothes off her back, quickly coordinated a night helicopter evacuation, and carried Terry on her back to safety, Hickman said. 

The same morning, MFPD’s Engine 317 was engaged in search-and-rescue efforts in the Hot Springs/Olive Mill Road area. The crew of Engine 317 encountered multiple homes swept away and other severely damaged by the debris flow. “Entire trees ripped from their roots, extremely large boulders, and enormous piles of debris were everywhere,” Hickman said. “Power lines were tangled among the debris and high-pressure gas lines were ruptured, ejecting unburned natural gas with a deafening sound.”

Medal of Valor award recipient Maeve Juarez with Jon and Terry Keating, whom she saved on January 9, 2018

Andrew Rupp and his crew heard 17-year-old Lauren Cantin’s faint cry for help coming from a nearby debris pile. The entire crew started de-layering the pile by hand in an effort to locate Lauren without igniting the natural gas that surrounded them. “Use of power tools was not an option,” Hickman said.

Rupp was the first to make contact with Lauren, trapped 10 feet deep in the debris. He promised her that he would not leave her until she was safe. Rupp began tunneling down toward Lauren among warnings of ensuing rain, further debris flow, and continued threat of the natural gas finding an ignition source. “Andy knew a rapid escape from the tunnel he was in was not possible if something went wrong,” Hickman said. After an hour of digging and cutting by hand, Andy finally made it down to Lauren. He was able to cut the last remaining debris, freeing Lauren’s ankle and extricating her from the pile. Andy never left Lauren’s side until he delivered her to the ambulance. Lauren and her mother, Kim Cantin, would later discover their father and husband, Dave Cantin, perished in the debris flow. Lauren’s brother, Jack Cantin, remains missing. 

Both the Keating family and the Cantin family were in attendance at the special event. Juarez and Rupp were given a standing ovation for their heroic efforts, while their new medals were placed around their necks. 


You might also be interested in...