Hilton Head Island Fire Department Honored for Response to Fire at 1 Dinghy

The International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) and Motorola Solutions recognized the brave and heroic actions of Hilton Head Island Fire Department’s Battalion Chief David Bell, Fire Apparatus Operator Brendan Horlbeck, and Lieutenant Sean Kavlick with the prestigious Ben Franklin Award for Valor. This award is presented to individuals or teams who demonstrate exceptional courage and selflessness in the face of danger, and their extraordinary life-saving efforts exemplify the true spirit of valor.

The honored firefighters responded to the structure fire at 1 Dinghy on September 9, 2022. When they arrived on the scene, they were confronted with a 3-story single-family residential home engulfed in flames, with 75% of the structure involved. Despite the challenging conditions, they knew they had to act swiftly, as three of the six occupants were unaccounted for. Captain Dave Bell, along with his team members, exhibited remarkable bravery by entering the structure without the aid of a handline to initiate the search for the missing individuals. The interior conditions were extremely hazardous, with high heat and zero visibility posing substantial risks to the crew. Undeterred, they proceeded with determination, knowing that their actions were critical to the lives of those trapped inside.

During the perilous search, one of the crew members contacted what they believed to be a victim. The deteriorating conditions made it difficult to confirm visually, but Captain Bell recalled that one of the missing individuals had a walking boot. The crew members were able to verify the presence of a boot on the victim, and with the team’s combined efforts, they managed to remove the victim from the residence. The immediate life-saving measures performed, and the assistance provided by other personnel outside of the structure played a vital role in saving the victim’s life. The victim was transported to Hilton Head Hospital and eventually transferred to the burn unit in Augusta, GA, where she made a remarkable recovery.

Despite their valiant efforts, the outcome was not without sorrow, as another of the unaccounted-for occupants was later found deceased in the heavily involved area of the fire. The occupants of the home were co-workers who were celebrating the retirement of the fire fatality victim, making the rescue mission even more emotionally charged and demanding. The crew’s actions have been deeply appreciated by the surviving family and friends of the fire victim and other occupants. The positive outcomes of their heroic endeavors have left an indelible mark on the community. In recognition of their bravery and life-saving rescue efforts, they received a departmental unit citation and the prestigious IAFC Medal of Valor.