A South Surrey woman whose quick actions last week likely saved a senior couple was celebrated Friday with Surrey Fire Services’ first-ever public commendation.
“She stopped, she pounded on the door and woke them up,” fire Chief Len Garis said in presenting Yvonne Bernardy-Dearden with a framed Certificate of Merit.
“Her actions, we believe, saved the lives of two individuals.”
Bernardy-Dearden was on her way to work at Vancouver airport just before 6 a.m. May 25 – later than she typically leaves – when she spotted flames coming from the side of Andy and Carole Johnston’s house, in the 17000-block of 0 Avenue.
She didn’t hesitate to act, calling 911 – twice, after the first call dropped – while pounding and kicking on the home’s front door as the fire was “just turning monstrous.”
She didn’t stop until the Johnstons were safely outside.
“That morning, I didn’t even think,” Bernardy-Dearden told reporters following the presentation outside of Hall 14. “I just did what we all should do, would do.”
The Johnstons’ home was quickly engulfed, and the seniors said Friday they’ve yet to hear if it can be saved. They’ve been told it’ll be at least a year before they can return home.
“But we’re OK,” Andy Johnston told Peace Arch News. “It’s not what you want to have happen in your 70s – or in your 20s – but we’re alive. That’s all that matters.”
Garis told PAN that spontaneous combustion of staining materials is suspected to have caused the fire, and that if Bernardy-Dearden hadn’t stopped, “that couple probably wouldn’t be alive.”
He noted 32 per cent of fire-related deaths in B.C. are of people 65 years and older, and said the Johnstons’ experience is a good reminder of the importance of having working smoke alarms that are equipped with battery backup, in the event a fire impacts a home’s electrical system.
He hopes the new tradition of public commendations in Surrey – the system is to officially launch in the next couple of weeks – will inspire more people to get involved in helping others when the need arises.
“We don’t have a tendency to get involved,” Garis said of people in general. “We need things like this to say, it’s worth it.”
Bernardy-Dearden’s boss at Westjet, Chantal Berridge, was also on hand for the presentation. She told PAN company officials have already reached out to acknowledge Bernardy-Dearden’s actions, which were in line with how Westjet trains its employees.
“She fully demonstrated that on that given morning,” Berridge said.