Heroes hailed at Red Cross breakfast

By Emily Gillespie, Columbian breaking news reporter


Updated: March 7, 2014, 11:02 PM


Also honored

• Francisco Melton and crew were returning to the Goose Point Oyster Farms cannery on Willapa Bay in February 2013 when they encountered a boat and two people stranded on a submerged sand spit. Melton and his crew used their oyster boat to rescue the couple, ages 71 and 59. The couple was hypothermic and exhausted.

• Cindy Faubion, an expert kayaker, lived near a jetty where a distressed kayaker was left hanging on a log piling after her kayak sank 30 miles from the mouth of the Columbia River in March 2013. When the woman’s friends called 911, the dispatcher called her mother, Faubion. Faubion was able to reach the woman before the sheriff’s rescue boats and she and her family brought the woman back to shore.

• Bob Robeck was on his way to work driving on Interstate 84 when he came upon a single-vehicle crash. An overturned car had an unresponsive woman inside. Robeck kicked in a window, cut the woman’s seat belt and pulled her out of the sunroof before the car became engulfed in flames.

• Rhett and Karen Burbank were in their home when Rhett’s brother, Joel, spotted a neighbor lying face down in the backyard. Karen Burbank called 911 while Rhett Burbank ran to the woman, who was unresponsive and had no pulse. Rhett performed CPR and she survived.

• Harley, a 7-year-old pit bull, woke his owner Gordon Pruett in the middle of the night on May 10, 2013. Pruett eventually spotted a cougar perched in a tree in the backyard of his Vancouver house. Pruett called 911, and police evacuated Pruett, his wife and his 9-year-old son. Harley kept the cougar treed until wildlife officials arrived and tranquilized the animal.

When others thank him and call him a hero for running into a neighbor’s mobile home that was on fire, Ryan Bird’s first thought is to thank someone else.

“I’m thankful for the neighbor up the road that installed the smoke detectors just two weeks before,” the Vancouver man said.

The beep from the smoke detectors is what alerted Bird to a fire on Jan. 25, 2013, in the Sunnyside neighborhood. He pounded on the front door, but his neighbor inside was disoriented, walking around the mobile home trying to put out the blaze with her bare feet, he said. He went around the house, broke through the back door and led the woman outside before smothering the flames with nearby pieces of carpet.

“To me there was no other choice,” he said.

Bird was one of the seven honorees at the American Red Cross Real Heroes Breakfast, held Friday morning at the Hilton Vancouver Washington. The event, in its 17th year, is the main fundraising effort by the American Red Cross Southwest Washington Chapter.

“I feel good about (the award), but I feel better about being able to help the Red Cross,” Bird said. He said he was simply in the right place at the right time, but the Red Cross volunteers make it their top priority to help those who are put through emergency situations.

“I’m happy to help keep their doors open,” he said.

All the heroes are ordinary people — plus one dog — who happened upon emergency situations and sprang into action. Following each story of rescue and bravery in the face of danger, the crowd showed its appreciation with a standing ovation.

Pulling on the audience’s heartstrings with his story was Scott Beutler.

While on his way to work in Astoria, Ore., from Naselle, Beutler noticed a basketball-sized notch in a tree along the road. Something tugged at Beutler, so he and a friend traveling with him turned around to check. A few hundred feet from the road, Beutler found a mangled car. Inside he found a woman in the driver’s seat who had died in the crash that he later learned happened six or seven hours earlier. Nearby, he found the woman’s two daughters, ages 2 and 4, alive. The younger one was suffering from severe injuries and hypothermia. He wrapped the girls in his sweatshirt and played Disney songs on his phone until help arrived.

“It was a blessing that we were there ... If we didn’t stop is mostly what I think about,” he said.

Throughout the morning, Beutler was approached by mothers who thanked him and told him it is reassuring to know that there are people like him in the world who will protect their children should something happen.

But Beutler said he likes to think that others would do the same thing he did.

“If it wasn’t me, it would have been someone else,” he said. “At least, that is what I hope and pray.”