The Essex Reporter
Police cars and fire trucks lined the outside of Essex High School on July 22, a sight usually reserved for situations unworthy of celebration.
This occasion, however, was different; a sea of light and dark blue uniforms gathered in the auditorium to honor the actions of some of their own, stemming from a daring rescue of an Essex Junction woman on April 12.
Kori Chambers, 22, was there to witness the ceremony, taking a brief moment at the podium to show her appreciation for her rescuers.
“I just wanted to say thank you. I obviously owe you guys my life,” she said, pausing briefly at times as emotion took over.
The Essex Police Department was called to 1 Cherry St. at 5:33 a.m. on Sunday, April 12, and found the building engulfed in flames and a woman in her 20s, later identified as Chambers, trapped inside. She was located by rescue crews and found to be unresponsive. Officer Stephen Dunning, Essex Junction Fire Capt. Jim Kellogg and Essex Junction firefighters Stephen Gragg and Dan McCaig had to cut a hole in the exterior of the house to rescue her.
Gragg, Macaig and Kellogg were among the honorees last week, along with Essex Town firefighter Derek Lamotte and Essex Junction firefighters Hayley Leo and Richard Smith.
Three Essex Rescue members were honored as well: Mike Weinberg, Peter Mutolo and Shelby Evans.
Essex Police Officer Stephen Dunning also received a medal of valor for his role in the rescue, and Essex Junction resident Trevor Wagar was presented an award for his efforts.
A video presented by the Essex Junction Fire Department featured the firefighters and Dunning describing the events. It showed footage from the fire, beginning with a police cruiser’s dashboard recording upon pulling up to the scene.
Flames are seen engulfing over half the building, a surge of smoke pouring upwards, blackening the night sky.
“It was different. You could tell that every single person was stressed out, from firefighters getting dressed to the dispatcher talking to us. You could tell this was, for lack of better words, the real deal,” said Smith.
Kellogg, the Essex Junction fire captain, highlighted the cooperative effort put forth during the rescue.
“Everybody worked like we were all one major department, and I think that was one of the keys to why [Chambers] survived in the fire, because there was no fighting, there was no arguing. Everybody worked as a group,” said Kellogg in the video.
“If it weren’t for them, she wouldn’t be here,” said Bonnie Benedict, Chambers’ great-aunt, after the ceremony. “They took time out of their busy lives to come here tonight, and to see them get recognized gave us a little closure as a family.”
Steve Burt, Chambers’ grandfather — or as Chambers calls him, “Papa”— said the ceremony was “wonderful.”
“They are heroes,” he said.