Terrace’s James Giles, who last year rescued a family of three from a burning house, has been awarded the Carnegie Medal for extraordinary heroism.
Giles is the only Canadian among 20 men and women in the latest honouree role issued by the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission Dec. 19.
Last year, on the night of Oct. 18 Giles, now 41, had just returned home with his son from a late hockey game when a burst of light lit up his bedroom. Through his window he saw 20-foot flames climbing from the roof of his neighbour’s house across the street.
As Giles’s wife called 911, he rushed to the scene but failed to rouse the family after several minutes of shouting and banging on the door. After throwing a rock through the bedroom window, the mother appeared at the front entrance, confused and unaware of the fire. Giles believes she was already suffering from smoke inhalation as it billowed out the open door. He ushered her outside then covered his mouth with his shirt, running inside to locate the boy, who was found about eight feet from the door. He carried him outside and returned for the girl, whom he found frozen in fear on the stairs, then carried her to safety. At one point the mother, unaware her son had been rescued, returned to the house. Giles entered the building a third time to escort the mother back to her children on the street.
All were treated at the scene for mild smoke inhalation.
Before entering the house, which he knew to be the home of two children, Giles said he remembers thinking only of wind direction, and where his best chance existed to assist them.
“What drove me was the thought of my kids. What extreme was I willing to go to if those were my kids inside. Well, I’d die for them. I’m sure that was the case with that family too, so I had to make sure they would live. I still haven’t really processed it yet, but that’s all it was about.”
The commission’s website describes the Carnegie Medal as an honour given to men and women throughout the United States and Canada for risking their lives to an extraordinary degree while saving or attempting to save the lives of others. The 20 individuals announced Dec. 19 are among 77 who received the award in 2017. Seven of the individuals in announcement died in the act of saving the lives of others.
Since the night of Oct. 18 Giles has formally joined the Terrace Volunteer Fire Department. Once he completes his basic 1001 training he plans to apply everywhere he can to pursue firefighting as a career.
“My dream job was always to be a firefighter,” he said. “But I could never afford to go to school for training, with kids and everything.” But earlier this year Giles was laid off from work as a safety coordinator, at which point he felt the timing was right, and signed up for the volunteer service in Terrace.
“I’m so happy. The guys are great and it’s such a fun, rewarding job. Best decision I ever made.”
Each of the Carnegie Medal recipients will receive an undisclosed financial grant, according to the Commission’s website. Since the fund was established 113 years ago by industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, close to $40 million has been given out in the form of grants, scholarships, death benefits and continuing assistance.
“It’s a little overwhelming,” Giles said. “I don’t like to be in the limelight. I’m sure there are many other Canadian’s who deserve the same kind of recognition, especially law enforcement guys, our military and fire service guys. But it’s an honour, for sure. I’m shocked.”
The honour follows a plaque presentation from the City of Terrace earlier this year. Mayor Carol Leclerc presented Giles with a plaque “in recognition of your heroism and courageous action,” she said at the time.
-with files from Margaret Speirs