For the first time in its 101-year history, an award for valor was bestowed by the Montecito Fire Protection District. Wildland Fire Specialist Maeve Juarez and Firefighter/Paramedic Andy Rupp each received the medal “for risking their lives to save others” in the immediate aftermath of the 1/9 Debris Flow, said Chief Chip Hickman, who presented the accolades Tuesday evening at Montecito Union School before a crowd of about 150.
Just before 4 a.m. on the morning of January 9, Juarez was patrolling a neighborhood near San Ysidro Creek at East Mountain Drive when her vehicle was pushed by floodwaters down Park Lane. Behind her she could see the massive gas fire that had ignited nearby residences in the pouring rain. She got out and ran toward an engulfed home, where Teri and John Keating had jumped from the second story to escape smoke and flames. Finding John badly burned and Teri with both ankles broken, Juarez carried Teri to safety with John at her side.
Just after daylight that same morning, near the intersection of Hot Springs and Olive Mill roads, Rupp led a team that rescued 14-year-old Lauren Cantin, buried under a towering pile of uprooted trees, splintered lumber, and chain-link fencing littered with a battered refrigerator, a sedan, and a pickup truck. Nearby, a broken utility main hissed explosive gas. “Somehow, Andy and his crew heard Lauren Cantin’s cries for help,” said Hickman, adding that Rupp and others slowly dismantled the pile as it threatened to collapse, and tunneled toward Cantin. “Andy was the first to make contact with Lauren, and he never left her side, all the way to the ambulance.”
In the first 12 hours after the debris flow, first responders made 900 rescues, according to Hickman.