Volunteer firefighter James Giles, who rescued a family of three from a burning house in 2016, was among those awarded a Canadian Medal of Bravery by the Governor General of Canada Julie Payette in Regina, Sask. on Oct. 20.
Then six days later, he was awarded a Silver Medal of Bravery from the Royal Canadian Humane Association in West Kelowna, ahead of Thailand cave diver Erik Brown who assisted with the Tham Luang Cave rescue last July.
“It was a surreal kind of feeling… a once in a lifetime experience,” says Giles.
Silver medals are reserved for those who have shown an extraordinary disregard for personal safety in saving or attempting to save a life. Gold medals are awarded postmortem to those who lost their lives in the act.
Of the 19 recipients recognized by the association in West Kelowna, six of them were from Terrace.
Roger Fehr, Kelly Gingles, Regan Kardas, Mitchell Peters and Brian Ward were all given honorary testimonial certificates to commemorate their rescue of a snowmobiler who had been buried underneath an avalanche in March 2017.
“In my mind, I was more impressed with everyone else who was there and their stories,” says Giles. “It was really neat to know that there are a lot of people out there who are willing to take a risk to help others.”
While he says it’s nice to receive recognition, acts of bravery like this happen all the time for the fire department and emergency services crews. He says he feels the need to be humble when people ask him about the rescue, even though he ventured into the burning house without any gear or backup.
“It was a matter of circumstances, and that’s what I remind myself… that I was confident to do what I did while maintaining the safety of myself and trying to help those in need.
“And that’s partly what catapulted me towards the fire department and volunteering.”
He began volunteer firefighter training two years ago and was awarded a grant from the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission to study at the Southwest Fire Academy in Ontario this past June.
He was actually supposed to fly to Ottawa to receive the Canadian medal of bravery from the Governor General then, but was scheduled for fire academy training on the same day and had to postpone. Moving closer towards his goal of becoming a full-time firefighter is his primary focus, Giles says.
“Don’t have the mentality to always get something in return, that’s not what it’s about. It’s not about medals, it’s not about recognition. It’s about being a decent person.”