Would do the same ‘in a heartbeat’: awards of valour recipients recount saving fellow Hope residents

Front row from left are the recipients of the RCMP’s Officer In Charge awards for valour Steven Forde, Kenneth Reid and Craig Fraser. Missing from the photograph, also honoured with this award, are Taylor Plett and Rachel Prest. (Emelie Peacock/Hope Standard)
Front row from left are the recipients of the RCMP’s Officer In Charge awards for valour Steven Forde, Kenneth Reid and Craig Fraser. Missing from the photograph, also honoured with this award, are Taylor Plett and Rachel Prest. (Emelie Peacock/Hope Standard)
Superintendent Bryon Massie, Officer in Charge of the Upper Fraser Valley Regional Detachment, welcomed recipients of the award of valour for 2019. (Emelie Peacock/Hope Standard)
Front row from left are the recipients of the RCMP’s Officer In Charge awards for valour Steven Forde, Kenneth Reid and Craig Fraser. Missing from the photograph, also honoured with this award for their actions in 2019, are Taylor Plett and Rachel Prest. (Emelie Peacock/Hope Standard)
“You are our heroes, you live amongst us and we are extremely proud,” Heather Stewin said to the award recipients at the RCMP’s Officer In Charge awards Aug. 6, 2020. (Emelie Peacock/Hope Standard)
A COVID-era elbow bump replaced a firm handshake between Superintendent Bryon Massie, left, awards of valour recipient Craig Fraser, at the Officer In Charge awards Aug. 6, 2020. (Emelie Peacock/Hope Standard)
Kenneth Reid was given an RCMP award of valour after he and two others saved a woman from the Fraser River after she had jumped from the Fraser River Bridge on Aug. 13, 2019. (Emelie Peacock/Hope Standard)
Steven Forde receiving his RCMP award of valour after he and two others saved a woman from the Fraser River after she had jumped from the Fraser River Bridge on Aug. 13, 2019. (Emelie Peacock/Hope Standard)
Hope’s RCMP Staff Sergeant Karol Rehdner presents five awards of valour at an annual RCMP ceremony, Aug. 6, 2020. (Emelie Peacock/Hope Standard)
Superintendent Bryon Massie, front, surprised Staff Sergeant Karol Rehdner, back, with an impromptu speech at Rehdner’s last Officer In Charge awards. Rehdner, Staff Sergeant for the Hope RCMP detachment, is retiring at the end of 2020. (Emelie Peacock/Hope Standard)

The three men present at a ceremony to honour their bravery and valour were characteristically humble when asked about why they decided to save the lives of fellow Hope citizens.

Craig Fraser sprung into action after he witnessed an elderly man trapped inside a burning vehicle in the Tom Berry Road area in September 2019. “In my mind it’s just the right thing to do, I would want to be saved too, it’s the right thing,” he said.

Kenneth Reid and Steven Forde were also humble when recounting the moment they went out onto the Fraser River in August 2019 together with Taylor Plett, to save a woman who had jumped from the Fraser River Bridge. “Honestly, it’s a reaction, right, that’s all it is,” said Forde, pushing back slightly against the hero moniker. “We were fortunate and we were able to get to her in time. Sometimes that doesn’t happen, but it did in this case.” Added Reid: “You do what needs to be done.”

The four men were honoured with awards of valour along with Rachel Prest, for her actions to save a female struck by an oncoming train in June 2019. The RCMP’s Officer In Charge Awards Ceremony took place Thursday, Aug. 6 at Hope’s recreation centre, with family and friends present yet physically distanced.

Councillor Heather Stewin, attending on behalf of Hope’s mayor, thanked those awarded Thursday for making the community stronger with their selfless acts. “You have put yourself above your own needs to help a stranger, someone you don’t even know, and that makes us extremely proud,” she said, adding that family and friends of those honoured deserved recognition as did the RCMP for organizing the event during a time of pandemic restrictions.

“The right place at the right time”: Steven Forde, Kenneth Reid and Taylor Plett

Reid and Plett were just wrapping up a fishing tour of the Fraser Canyon with their guide and friend Forde on Aug. 13, 2019. A woman ran down to tell them another woman had jumped off the Fraser River Bridge and was drowning. That’s when the three decided to see what had happened – they offloaded friends and an infant who had been fishing with them, threw on lifejackets and took off on the river.

Forde said they hoped the woman wasn’t on the left side of the river, where boulders and swirling waters make it a treacherous area. People along the shore were pointing out where the woman was – at this point she had been in the water for two or three minutes, and had probably floated down a half kilometre from the bridge.

“We didn’t see her at first and then all of a sudden she popped up, and we were able to get to her. She went under a few times… she was literally in front of us and would disappear. And…we kind of drifting backwards with her,” Forde remembers.

With Forde handling the boat, Reid and Plett were able to grab hold of the woman and bring her onto the boat. “Another couple of minutes,” and she would have been gone Reid said.

Hope’s Staff Sergeant Karol Rehdner, presenting their awards of valour, noted the “extremely strong running currents” and danger of the situation. He said it would have been impossible for the woman, due to the height she fell from as well as the flow and temperature of the water, to swim to safety on her own.

“Steven, Kenneth and Taylor, it is without a doubt your quick actions that saved the female from certain death,” Rehdner said. “Your selfless acts of bravery to respond to an emergency situation for the safety of another is heroic.”

“We just happened to be at the right place at the right time, that’s all it was,” Forde said, adding another half hour on the water fishing and the two would not be standing in front of the RCMP receiving an honourary coin and commendations from the force. “Fortunately I had the boat that could do it, and fortunately I had two clients that were strong enough.”

And, Reid added, without Forde’s ability to read the river and navigate to the woman, the rescue would have been impossible.

Yet trying is certainly part of their nature, the two agree. “Anytime something like that happens in front of you, you’ve you got to step up, right?” Reid said.

“Just the right thing to do”: Craig Fraser

Hearing the RCMP recall his actions on Sept. 3, 2019 brought Fraser to “happy tears” and a feeling of pride to be recognized with his family and girlfriend in the audience.

On that fall day, Fraser said he first saw a car zipping by, then saw it turn and crash into the trees. “I ran over and he was trapped, and I grabbed my fire extinguisher,” Fraser said, recalling there were others present at the scene who did not know what to do as the vehicle was on fire.

The man in the vehicle was in medical distress, Rehdner added, and was not able to react to his burning vehicle nor get out on his own. The doors of the vehicle were locked, so when banging on the doors and yelling did not work, Fraser used a hammer to break a window and get the door open.

He rescued the man from inside the vehicle as well as his dog, then when they were safely out he began dousing the car with the fire extinguisher.

The vehicle’s flames flared up several times, and Fraser suffered smoke inhalation that garnered him his first ever ride in an ambulance. “The ambulance would not take ‘I’m OK’ for an answer,” he said, adding he initially did not want to go to hospital following the incident.

Fraser’s “quick thinking and heroic actions” saved the man’s life “without a doubt” Rehdner said, as without his help the man would have met a tragic demise inside the burning vehicle or due to smoke inhalation. “The compassion and fearless courage you displayed towards the male from the burning vehicle displays human kindness, is praiseworthy and clearly symbolizes the core values of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police,” Rehdner added.

Since the incident, Fraser has seen the man he saved many times. “He’s thanked me up and down and all around, he says I’m like his hero,” Fraser said. “I don’t know if it’s really a hero thing, or just the right thing to do.”

And if anything similar would happen again, Fraser said he wouldn’t hesitate to take the same actions – “in a heartbeat I would.”

Former young Hope resident also given valour distinction

Rachel Prest, who has since moved from the community, was recognized for her valour in saving a woman from an oncoming train June 8, 2019.

By the time RCMP and CN Rail officers arrived on the scene, a woman had been struck by a train at the 6 Avenue and Fort Street rail crossing. Through their investigation, Rehdner said “an intoxicated female was…standing on the railway tracks with her arms open as the train was approaching,” he said. “Rachel Prest was present that day…without hesitation, and at great personal risk, Rachel approached the female and tried to pull her away but was unsuccessful.”

The woman eventually tried to move off the railway tracks but was struck on the right side of her body but remained conscious, Rehdner said, after which Prest stayed with her until an ambulance arrived.

The woman was transported to Royal Columbian Hospital with serious injuries, but eventually recovered.

“For such a young person to engage in timely, critical thinking, and make the immediate decision to attempt and ultimately succeed in saving another person whom you were only visually familiar with, speaks volumes of your character and courage,” Rehdner said Thursday.

Read more: Hope resident survives being hit by train

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