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Derek Schramel, far left, and his crew members, from left: Adam Ownbey, Graham McGinnis and Tyler Cook are being honored by the Coast Guard for their heroic efforts to save stranded firefighters. Schramel is a graduate of Greenville High School and now a Lieutenant Commander in the Coast Guard. Photo submitted

Man with local ties receives national award for heroism

A Greenville High School graduate, Derek Schramel, is among four Coast Guard members to receive a prestigious national award for rescuing trapped firefighters during a 2019 fire.

According to an announcement released by the Coast Guard, Lt. Cmdr. Derek Schramel, the aircraft commander, and Petty Officer 1st Class Graham McGinnis, a rescue swimmer, will be presented with Distinguished Flying Cross Awards; while Lt. j. g. Adam Ownbey, the co-pilot, and Petty Officer 3rd Class Tyler Cook, the flight mechanic, will receive Air Medals.

Coast Guard Rear Admiral Bryan Penoyer presenting the awards during an official ceremony  Aug. 6. His mother, Merri Schramel, attended the event.

The Distinguished Flying Cross is the nation’s highest award for extraordinary aerial achievement. As a valor decoration, it is awarded to recipients for heroism while participating in an aerial flight.

The Air Medal is a prestigious award that is presented to an Armed Forces member who has distinguished themselves by heroic or meritorious achievement in aerial flight during the rescue of survivors.

The U. S. Forest Service requested the Coast Guard’s assistance with the medevac of two firefighters who had sustained injuries while battling the Middle Fire on Sept. 6, 2019. The firefighters were surrounded by steep, wooded terrain with the advancing wildfire threatening to burn over their position.

The aircrew prepared for the high-risk rescue in a rugged mountain valley with limited visibility due to widespread smoke and minimal room for error. Battling bouts of vertigo, fire updrafts, and night vision device blinding, the crew established a prolonged precision hover above a narrow 20-by-30 foot hoisting area, surrounded by towering trees with wildfire flanking the zone on three sides. The firefighters were hoisted expeditiously despite the crew having to overcome fatigue and choking smoke that filled the helicopter cabin.

According to the Coast Guard, “The firefighters were successfully rescued and delivered to advanced medical care, saving their lives. The flight crew’s outstanding airmanship and devotion to duty reflect great credit upon themselves and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Coast Guard.”

Derek is the son of David and Merri Schramel of Indian Valley. In addition to being a Greenville High grad, he earned a degree from Chico State. He and wife Kristi, along with their two children, Dylan and Carter, live in Eureka.



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