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Aklavik youth receives Bronze Medal for Bravery

Lyndsay Herman
Northern News Services
Published Monday, July 9, 2012

There was an extra special reason for celebration in Aklavik on Canada Day this year as Shaun Firth, 17, received the Bronze Medal for Bravery from the Royal Canadian Humane Association.

Last January, Firth, then 15, was visiting his friend Phillip Elanik, 33, at his home when the upstairs fire alarm went off. Firth and Elanik both ran upstairs to find one of Elanik's children in a smoky room and a mattress on fire.

While Elanik attempted to put out the fire, Firth ran the two children who were still in the house to a neighbour and ran to second neighbouring house to call the fire department. He then returned to the house to help Elanik escape the fire.

"I wasn't even thinking, I just wanted to get them out of there," said Firth. "I don't think anyone should have to go through that kind of stuff."

The house was destroyed but no lives were lost, although Elanik was treated for burns and smoke inhalation.

Rachel Munday, Aklavik nurse in charge and the person who nominated Firth for the award, said the medal has done a lot to recognize Firth and the qualities he showed during the fire.

"I think it was important for everyone to see the fact that Shaun is a role model for other young men his age," she said.

"I thought, at the time, it was quite tremendous what he'd done because many kids would have just ran away and saved themselves, that's all you'd expect a kid to do."

Firth was supposed to receive the medal at a ceremony in Edmonton, but Munday and Firth's father, Victor Firth, decided it would be best to recognize him in his own community, surrounded by those who cared most about him.

"He just thinks he's done what he was supposed to, what was expected of him," Victor said, "and it turned out to be the right thing.

"It made me feel proud."

Shaun said the medal ceremony on Canada Day was as much of a surprise as receiving the award itself.

"I was feeling excited to get it," Firth said of the ceremony. "It was amazing. I didn't think it would be me that would get the award."

Elanik, who died from pancreatic cancer last summer, was also recognized posthumously in an Honourary Testimonial, which his family proudly accepted on his behalf.

Munday said the ceremony was bittersweet but did a lot to help people remember the remarkable bravery both men showed just over a year ago.

"It was important for his family," Munday said. "It was happy but tearful."

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