By Lauren Garner
AT&T Insider Staff Writer

The Vail Award was established in 1920 as a lasting memorial to Theodore N. Vail, the first president of AT&T. Vail was known for his deep respect for humanity and his strong sense of community. The Vail Award recognizes heroic acts or special service carried out by employees and retirees of AT&T and its wholly owned subsidiaries. These actions benefit the company or the community. They also show the highest degree of judgment, initiative, resourcefulness and courage.

Our latest Vail Award winners think quickly and heroically jump in to save lives. Here are their stories.

Saving neighbors from deadly house fire

Network Services Manager Mark Smith showed remarkable heroism when he singlehandedly saved 7 of his neighbors from a deadly house fire in his Lisbon, Ohio, neighborhood.

Mark was leaving for work at around 6:30 a.m. when he heard strange noises coming from his neighbor’s house. He saw an orange glow in the garage as he was driving by, and his volunteer firefighter instincts were right. As he ran to the front door, something in the garage exploded.

Mark knew his neightbors were likely drowsy from the smoke, so he pounded on the front door until his hands were literally bleeding. A family member finally answered, in a daze from the toxic fumes filling the house.

Mark proceeded to evacuate all the remaining occupants out of the house – in-laws, their daughter, 3 grandchildren and a friend.

The local volunteer fire department captain who arrived on the scene, Mark Hall, also happens to be an AT&T employee. “There are 7 people breathing because of Mark," Hall said. "Another 10 minutes would have been a very bad situation.”

Saving our building and employees from fire

Technical Managers Robert Spence and Benhur Ricketts were running an indoor power generator for its routine monthly inspection and noticed the smell of smoke. After clearing the generator room, they ran outside.

The shrubbery near the generator’s exhaust stack was on fire. They dialed 911 and ran inside to shut down the generator, then alerted the employees.

The fire was spreading fast along the building. Robert and Benhur coordinated efforts with fire extinguishers to minimize the damage, containing the fire as it approached nearby telecom equipment. They worked until firefighters took over and extinguished it fully.

They later found out that a bird’s nest had blocked the exhaust vent. The nest caused a heat buildup that sparked the fire.

Pulling a child from deadly whirlpool

Dawn Beveridge-Garber, professional-software delivery manager, was in her backyard in Huntley, Illinois, with her neighbors surveying the damage from a recent flash flood. She spotted 2 neighborhood sisters, ages 10 and 12, playing on an inflatable raft in the flooded lake runoff on the other side of the street. Suddenly, the 2 girls disappeared from view.

Dawn and her neighbor ran to the runoff area and saw the 12-year old struggling to keep her younger sister from getting sucked into a drainage pipe about 75 feet down the other side of the embankment.. The flood waters had created a deadly whirlpool.

Dawn and her neighbor jumped in and pulled them back, but the suction was unrelenting. The 10 year-old was completely underwater and turning blue. In a final desperate act, Dawn braced herself on the nearby rocks and heaved. She was able to pull everyone to safety.

The youngest sister was transported to the hospital with minor injuries and returned home the same day.

Carrying a wheelchair-bound customer to safety

Wire Technician Josh Ghebremichael was on a repair call on the second floor of an apartment complex in Cornelius, North Carolina, when the fire alarm sounded. The previous month, the complex had a fire that took a life.

The alarm system automatically locked the apartment doors and elevators, leaving only the stairs as the escape. Josh’s customer was wheelchair-bound, so he took it upon himself to get her to safety. He coordinated with neighbors to carry her and her wheelchair down 2 floors of busy stairwells to a table outside, clear of the building.

Josh stayed and comforted his customer until the fire department arrived and extinguished the fire. After it was safe to return, Josh completed her repair work.

The customer later contacted us to say that Josh had saved her life. Had he not been there, it is unclear whether she would have made it down safely.

Untangling a child in a pool

Services Technician Herfner “Herf” Franklin was dispatched for a customer installation in Conyers, Georgia. He noticed an energetic toddler playing in the backyard. Later, Herf didn’t hear the child, so he checked on the boy.

He checked the side of the customer’s house and then the neighbor’s yard. He spotted the pool cover for the above-ground pool slowly sinking to the bottom with the boy trapped in it, fully submerged.

Without hesitation, Herf ran over to the pool, pulled the child out and then yelled for help. The child was listless at first but soon came to, coughing and crying. Herf’s customer arrived shortly after to ensure the boy, his son, was unharmed.

The customer called Herf’s supervisor to share the incident and his certainty that Herf had saved his son’s life. 

Rescuing a fellow employee

Customer Service Associate Tineisha Mallory was driving home in the rain from work in Orange Park, Florida, when she witnessed a car hydroplane, hit a concrete barrier, flip multiple times and strike a tree.

Tineisha jumped into action to pull the injured driver from the smoking vehicle. She then ran to retrieve the woman’s purse, insurance card – and her AT&T ID.

That's right. The driver of the damaged vehicle was Aunjilee Phillips, a new AT&T employee training to provide DSL technical support. Aunjilee was transported to a local hospital to get checked out.

A state trooper saw the car and thought for sure there had been a fatality.