Across the nation wildfires have killed 13 firefighters and civilians, but there are countless first responders who were close to losing their lives while saving others. Some of those law enforcement officers are from the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department.
Four deputies received the medal of valor which is the highest honor a living deputy can receive. They were given the medal for their actions during the Lower North Fork Fire.
Jefferson County deputies Randy Barnes, Jerry Chrachol, Jason Hertel and David Bruening got a call in the late afternoon on March 26 that they needed to help evacuate people trapped in the fire.
"As we were going towards the fire, the plume of smoke was just huge," Deputy Jason Hertel recalled.
The deputies went door-to-door to help those caught in the middle of the fire despite the thick smoke, ash and falling debris. After the evacuations were complete, the fire quickly became unbearable and the deputies had to get out fast.
"For a split second it comes into your mind, 'I'm in trouble,'" Hertel said.
Officer David Bruening radioed for help after he drove off the side of the road and hit a tree. He says the smoke was so thick he couldn't see the road.
"Deputy Bruening got high centered on rocks and Deputy Chrachol saved him," Deputy Randy Barnes said.
There were several tense moments for the deputies who knowingly went into the plume of smoke; knowing they might not make it out alive. But, they managed to make it out without injury and make it to the day where they could be honored for doing what so often can be a thankless job.
"It's a nice feeling to get back from the community," Deputy Hertel said.
Fifteen deputies were honored for various heroic acts. The Jefferson County Sheriff's Department says they hold award ceremonies for their deputies twice a year.
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