Joe Kaelin said he "didn't think" before jumping into a freezing pond to rescue a 13-year-old girl and her dog.
He didn't consider his own safety, and it certainly never crossed his mind that he would be rewarded for doing what his instincts told him to do.
"I just saw her in need. She was screaming and crying, and there was nobody else around," he said.
On Friday, Kaelin, 54, was one of four civilians honored at the annual Lexington Fire Department awards banquet in the grand ballroom at the Griffin Gate Marriott for helping save lives last year.
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For the firefighters who attended, saving a life might be part of a day's work. But for Kaelin, Maclain Mullins, Ryan Betterman and Charles Hall, the Civilian Meritorious Citation Awards they received recognized once-in-a-lifetime moments of bravery — and fear.
It was Dec. 20. The temperature was 33 degrees, just high enough to partially melt the ice covering the pond at the corner of Tates Creek Road and Forest Lake Drive.
Kaelin, 54, was working on his wife's Christmas present — preparing to have the bathroom wallpapered at their Collinswood Drive home — when he heard frantic knocking at his front door.
A panicked boy stood outside. The boy said a girl and her dog were trapped in the pond just yards from Kaelin's home. Kaelin saw Hannah Brown, a Tates Creek Middle School student who lived nearby, splashing and calling for help, a black Pomeranian under her arm.
Brown's dog, Skyler, had chased some ducks and slid into the water. The dog paddled furiously, but its water-saturated fur weighed it down. Brown had removed her boots, stomped through a layer of ice and waded in after it.
Brown and Skyler weren't far from shore, but Brown's legs had gone numb almost immediately, Kaelin said. Surrounded by chunks of broken ice, she couldn't move.
Pausing only to put on his slippers, Kaelin ran out and jumped into the pond. A chunk of ice separated him from Brown. He reached out to her and told her to swim as hard as she could.
A neighbor who heard the commotion grabbed an extension cord that was lying outside and threw it to Kaelin. He threw one end to Brown and towed her across the ice.
Brown begged Kaelin to save the dog first. Kaelin took Skyler under one arm and Brown under the other and dragged them to shore, he said. The neighbor who had thrown Kaelin the cord took the girl and her dog inside to wait until an ambulance arrived.
Mullins and Betterman were honored for saving their friend during a weekend camping trip last fall.
About seven people were meeting at Tapps Cave along the Kentucky River. Mullins, Betterman and several others had already reached the cave and were waiting for Clifton "Cliff" Maher to arrive.
When Mullins heard a crash, he knew something was wrong. He didn't see Maher fall down an 80-foot cliff, hitting rocks and brush and landing face-down in the river. But the sound was unmistakable.
"It was one of those things — you just knew somebody had fell and it was bad," Mullins said.
Betterman ran to the water's edge and turned Maher over to bring his head above water. Mullins climbed a bluff to get a clear cell phone signal so he could direct paramedics to the site near the borders of Jessamine, Madison and Fayette counties.
Firefighters had to borrow Charles Hall's pontoon boat and travel 5 miles down the river to reach the group.
Maher suffered a concussion, a broken femur, a broken knee and a broken wrist.
Mullins said Betterman deserved the most credit, for finding Maher and bringing his head above water.
"One more half-a-minute with his head under the water, who knows?" Mullins said. "It was probably within seconds of Cliff not being Cliff anymore."
Dozens of firefighters, police officers and civilians were also recognized at the banquet.
Firefighter Jerrod Elam was given a Meritorious Citation for clamping an accident victim's artery with his bare hands for more than 30 minutes, keeping the victim from bleeding to death.
Carmillo Cruz, a lawn-care worker, was loading equipment onto a trailer on Dennis Drive on May 6 when a car — its driver blinded by the setting sun — crashed into him, mangling his leg at the pelvis.
Elam "reached into the victim's pelvis," holding the femoral artery shut between his thumb and index finger during the ambulance ride until doctors were ready to perform surgery, fire department Battalion Chief Marshall Griggs said.
Elam joked at the banquet: "I told my wife, 'I'm getting honored for just doing my job.'"