Kenai firefighters honored for role in '99 ice rescue

Heroes to be cited

Posted: Wednesday, May 17, 2000

Saving lives is the stuff heroes are made of.

Kenai Fire Marshal James Baisden and firefighter Jason Diorec fit that category. At a "Hero Breakfast" at the Hotel Captain Cook in Anchorage on May 24, both men will be recognized for saving the life of 13-year-old Walter Curry.

"I've never been involved in a rescue like that one," Baisden said.

On February 15, 1999, Curry and his younger brother and sister walked down the bluff, to the beach, near the end of Cook Inlet View Drive. A piece of pan ice on which Curry was standing began floating away from shore on the tide. A rescue effort began when Curry's mother called 911.

After being notified of the situation, Baisden and Diorec met with Kenai Air helicopter pilot Larry Rogers. They described the situation as they knew it.

"The initial request for helicopter support depicted a situation in which a teen-ager was stranded on a piece of stationary pan ice just off the Kenai beach," according to David Shepler, chief pilot at Kenai Air.

"Upon arrival, it was readily apparent the situation was much more serious than originally indicated, as the boy was more than one-half mile offshore and drifting rapidly into the inlet with the outgoing tide," Shepler reported.

Prepared to enter the water if necessary, the Nikiski dive team also responded, waiting on the beach with other members of the Kenai Fire Department.

"When we approached (Curry), the pilot said he'd be able to set down on the ice," Baisden said. "I secured Diorec to the helicopter and it turned out to be a pretty easy rescue once we got down.

"The helicopter door went open. We grabbed for him," Baisden said. "We didn't even have to get out."

Shepler said Rogers actually held the helicopter in a low hover, lightly placing one skid on the ice, letting the aircraft support itself.

Debra Holle, director of the Kenai Peninsula Red Cross, submitted the names of Baisden, Diorec, Rogers and other individuals involved in the rescue.

"The (Kenai) fire department said if it could only be one individual, they would select the helicopter pilot," Holle said. "But I emphasized in my note to the Red Cross headquarters that it was a cooperative effort."

Melissa Pesanti, director of financial development for Alaska's Southcentral chapter of Red Cross, said Baisden and Diorec were selected for the Fire Hero category. There are eight other American Red Cross Real Award categories: industrial safety, law enforcement, medical, adult good Samaritan, youth good Samaritan, military, animal rescue and educator.

"It was narrowed down to (Baisden and Diorec) as nominees for the firefighters award," said Pesanti. "But we're definitely honoring the efforts of all the individuals involved in this rescue. It was such a team effort. The Kenai Fire Department on shore with a boat, the Nikiski divers, the incredible helicopter pilot. It was incredible flying."

Kenai Assistant Fire Chief Scott Walden also praised the pilot.

"There were probably eight other guys that were listed as support people," Walden said. "The person we submitted was the pilot."

Shepler nominated Rogers for the Helicopter Association International's Igor I. Sikorsky Award for Humanitarian Service.

Although Rogers was not selected for the award, his actions and skill are recognized and valued by his coworkers.

"Larry's an outstanding professional pilot," said Brian Shackle-ton, director of operations at Kenai Air.

"He was extensively involved with firefighting during the Big Lake fire. His role was to crew a Bell 212 for the state," Shackleton said. "We had a (Big Lake) homeowner actually stop in here one day to meet (Rogers) and say thanks.

"He's won all our respect," Shackleton said of Rogers' actions on Feb. 15, 1999. "He keeps most all of our clients pretty happy. They are happy with the service he provides. That's the kind of employee you like to have on board."

Shepler credited Rogers' quick actions and skill with helping save Curry.

Rogers and Diorec were both unavailable for comment.

Baisden also praised Rogers' participation in the rescue.

"We had rescue suits out and ropes," Baisden said referring to preparations he and Diorec had made. "We didn't know the pilot would be as good as he was."

Modest about his own involvement, Baisden downplayed his everyday role at the fire department. When asked what the future held, he replied, "I'll just go back to being a normal firefighter again."

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