California firefighter hailed as hero for brave rescue

Published: July 4, 2007 | 6452nd good news item since 2003

Los Angeles County firefighter/paramedic Fred Sandoval estimates he took three minutes to save Bryce Lyons’ life.

Sandoval, of Upland, insists any one of his fire crew members could have rescued the Glendora man – who was nearly certain to die from smoke inhalation inside of a smoke- and fire-filled apartment building.

But last Monday, Sandoval was the one who went inside the apartment about 6:40 p.m. in the 500 block of Parker Drive.

“Anyone of them would have done it – it was just Fred’s turn to go in,” said John Schmidt, emergency services manager for Glendora.

Sandoval, 39, has lived in Upland with his wife and three children since December 1998 but grew up in Glendora and graduated from Glendora High School in 1985.

Los Angeles County fire Capt. Gary Bronner said Lyons, 29, is alive because of Sandoval’s help.

“Even to the bigger point, he probably would have died if we hadn’t gotten to him before the next minute – that’s how close it was,” Bronner said.

Sandoval went inside the apartment after Glendora police Officer Mike Skibar went in but could not see more than three feet because of “intense” smoke and then exited the building, Schmidt said.

Bronner said Sandoval put on a breathing apparatus, and fire engineer Ed Vasquez gave him a 300-foot hose line for safety.

“I was crawling on my knees feeling – like this,” Sandoval said last week as he re-enacted the scene inside his station next to a fire engine.

“I was feeling around and I felt his left foot,” Sandoval said.

“Is this him?” Sandoval remembered thinking. “Yeah, it’s him. I grabbed both feet and dragged him out.”

Fireman Dominic Viramontes and firefighter/paramedic Pat Dunham from Engine 32 in Azusa helped pull him away from the building, Sandoval said.

Then firefighter/paramedics Sean Cusack and George Gonzalez from Sandoval’s Engine 151 helped to resuscitate Lyons, Sandoval said.

Lyons was released May 7 from Foothill Presbyterian Hospital.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Since 1990, Sandoval has worked for Los Angeles County as a fire suppression aide, flying in a helicopter and fighting brush fires in 1990 and 1991. He was hired as a firefighter in 1992.

He had been an ambulance driver in 1988 and 1989 as well as during a brief period in 1991.

He went to Citrus College and Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut and in 1991, he graduated with a fire-science degree from Mt. SAC.

He has been at the Glendora station for 11 years and passed an exam to be a fire engineer in November.

Bronner said it was a team effort in saving Lyons.

“I have an excellent crew,” he said. “It doesn’t surprise me my crew made the right decision to make a difference.”

Schmidt, who was a paramedic with Sandoval’s brother in Glendale in the late 1970s, said he believes Sandoval made the difference.

“That gentleman is alive because Fred went in there and did a thorough search. He could have done a quick precursory search.

“If Fred was on the hero list, I’d vote for him.”

Published in Firefighters
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