A Bureau of Land Management wildland firefighter employed at the Miles City, Montana Field Office was recently awarded the Carnegie Medal for Heroism for saving two young girls from drowning in the Yellowstone River.
Justin Lowell Hanley saved Chava L. and Shoshana L. Berry from drowning near Miles City, Montana, August 4, 2013. Sisters Chava, 14, and Shoshana, 10, were wading in the Yellowstone River along the bank when the current pulled them into the deeper water of the river’s channel and carried them downstream. Mr. Hanley, 43, a wildland firefighter who lived nearby, was alerted. He responded to the scene and saw the girls in the water several hundred feet away.
He ran along the bank to a point just beyond them and then partially disrobed and entered the water, despite knowing little about river conditions. As Hanley swam out, the strong channel current pulled on him, but he succeeded in reaching the girls at a point about 250 feet from the bank. Chava was inert and he held her against his side with one arm and then grasped Shoshana with that hand. Using his free arm, he stroked back toward the bank, the current continuing to take them downstream. En route, Hanley submerged repeatedly to touch the river’s bottom. He reached the bank with the girls at a point about 700 feet downstream from where he entered the river.
Firefighters had responded by then and tended to Chava, who had lost consciousness. Both girls were taken to the hospital, where Chava was detained for having aspirated water. They recovered. Hanley recovered from fatigue and abrasions.
Firefighters are sometimes called heroes by the public for what I consider just doing their jobs. But what Justin Hanley did was far beyond the call of duty. My first real job was serving as a lifeguard, so I know that grasping two girls with one arm and swimming hundreds of feet back to shore in deep water while the current carried them downstream, is amazing.
Justin Hanley is truly a hero.