Calif. firefighters awarded Medal of Valor for daring save

The two firefighters crawled through a bedroom window to rescue three children trapped inside

By Pauline Repard
The San Diego Union-Tribune

SAN DIEGO — One boy was dead, his brother and sister were nearly breathing their last when San Diego firefighters Dallas Higgins and Joe Zakar crawled through a burning room filled with black, choking smoke to find them and carry them out.

For putting themselves at risk and saving the lives of both children last year, Higgins and Zakar received a medal of valor Friday at an annual ceremony hosted by the San Diego Fire Rescue Foundation.

The luncheon event was at the Hyatt Islandia Mission Bay hotel.

Awards were presented to 48 civilian heroes and those from the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department, AMR Rural/Metro medic service and the San Diego Lifeguard Service.

Higgins and Zakar were among the firefighters sent to a Mount Hope house fire shortly after midnight on Nov. 30. A babysitter said three children were still inside.

Flames were raging as Higgins crawled in a bedroom window and felt a bunk bed where a 12-year-old boy was dead. Higgins found a 5-year-old boy alive on the bottom bunk and handed him out the window to Zakar.

Higgins crawled around to find the third child, but had to get out of the intense heat. He suffered burns to his ears, neck, hands and one heel.

“It knew it was getting hotter and hotter in there,” Zakar said in an interview before the ceremony. Zakar dove into the window, crawled inside and found a 3-year-old girl on the floor.

“I heard the little girl take a breath behind me,” Zakar said. By the light of their flashlights, he “saw this pink little torso” and rushed her out to safety.

Investigators believe a portable heater caused the blaze.

Copyright 2016 The San Diego Union-Tribune

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