BLM firefighter recognized as hero for saving two girls from drowning

Justin Hanley
Sisters Chava (left) and Shoshana Berry (center) were on hand to make the presentation of the Carnegie Medal to Justin Hanley (right) the evening of Dec. 13.

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.

According to a news release from the Miles City field office of the BLM-Eastern Montana/Dakotas, the sisters were wading along the bank of the river at Miles City when the current pulled them into deeper water and carried them downstream.

Mr. Hanley, who was staying in a rented trailer nearby, ran several hundred feet along the bank to a point just beyond the girls.

“We had just finished dinner, and my wife glanced out the window and saw a woman running with a kid,” Mr. Hanley said. “We went out and saw her two granddaughters in the river going downstream.”

When he entered the water, the current pulled on him, too, but he reached the sisters about 250 feet from the bank. Holding Chava with one arm and Shoshana with the hand on the same arm,he used his free arm to stroke back to the bank, the current continuing to take the three people downstream.

While his firefighter training may have not specifically prepared him for a river rescue, an important part of the job played a part, he said.

“With our fire training, we have about 1½ hours every day to train and stay in shape,” he said. “You don’t want to fight wildland fires out of shape.”

“I was plumb full of food,” he said with a chuckle. But during his time in the water, he wasn’t thinking about the nice meal he’d just eaten.

Fatigued and suffering abrasions, he finally reached the bank with the girls at a point about 700 feet downstream from where he entered the river.

The day after his efforts, Mr. Hanley was in Billings to be with two of his own children having their tonsils taken out. He learned that Chava, who had taken in a lot of water during the ordeal, was in the hospital’s intensive care unit, and so he ended up visiting three children that day.

Typos, let us know HERE, and specify which article. Please read the commenting rules before you post a comment.

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

3 thoughts on “BLM firefighter recognized as hero for saving two girls from drowning”

  1. Indeed, when the term “hero” is tossed about too loosely these days it is nice to see a real hero recognized!


Comments are closed.