FAIRFIELD — Bill Putnam and Roy Thomas say they are just like pretty much everyone else. They saw someone who needed help and they helped.
The pair, who rescued two men who use wheelchairs from a burning van, were among about a dozen individuals and organizations honored Friday at the 2012 Heroes Breakfast presented by the American Red Cross.
Putnam, a 70-year-old cab driver from Vallejo, saw the scene unfold May 14 in Vallejo’s Gateway Plaza. He approached the smoking vehicle to see if everyone was safe. The van’s driver told him there were two people trapped inside and that the manual wheelchair lift mechanism had failed.
Thomas, who was working at a nearby store, saw the smoke. He made his way to the van. While Putnam worked on the lift, Thomas entered the van and wheeled both men to the lift, which Putnam was able to get working.
“You have to do something, even if you don’t know what to do,” Putnam said. “I had to do whatever I could.”
Besides, there have been times Putnam said he’s depended on the kindness of others. About 40 years ago, he needed the Coast Guard to rescue him off the coast of Massachusetts.
“They pulled me off the rocks just in time,” he said.
Both men said they would step up again to help their fellow humans, if the need were there.
“I’m just a normal person,” said Thomas, who is 40 and lives in Santa Rosa. “I just wish someone would do the same for my family, if they needed it.”
Putnam and Thomas were given the Act of Courage Award. Putnam drove his guests to the event in the same cab he was driving on the day in May.
The van belonged to Pace Solano, a program that serves developmentally disabled adults.
“It’s not something you think is going to happen. We’ve made changes as a result of this,” said Linda Craig, with Pace Solano. She nominated the men for the award. “At the right time and the right place the right people were there,” she said.
Jesse Branch, retired Marine Corps sergeant major, was the guest speaker. He told the crowd of about 200 that each recipient “had gone above and beyond” and “acted on instinct.”
He also encouraged those in attendance to acknowledge the unsung heroes.
“Heroes are not made, they are born with a mindset of helping others,” Branch said.
The honorees were:
Community Service Organization
— The Travis Air Force Base Drug Education for Youth program, whose goal is to help lead children into a drug- and alcohol-free future.
— The Yippie Foundation, which offers job training and mentoring to Solano County’s homeless, foster care and poverty-level teens and young adults, ages 16-24.
Community Service Individual
— Master Sgt. Michael Sullivan of Travis Air Force Base, who serves as a volunteer victim advocate with the base’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response office. He is one of four men in the group of 32 volunteers.
— Adrienne Waterman, founder of the nonprofit Food Rescue in Vallejo, a community fruit tree harvest and exchange program. Volunteers are organized to harvest residential fruit tress and give it to Vallejo food agencies.
Animal Rescue Award
— David Phinney and the Animal Place Rescue Ranch in Vacaville that specializes in rescuing, rehabilitating and rehoming needy farm animals. Since its inception, it has rescued or provided permanent refuge to almost 7,500 chickens, 19 turkeys, six sheep, seven pigs and two goats.
Act of Kindness & Philanthropy Award
— Dr. Nancy Kaplan, a podiatrist with Sutter Medical Foundation in Fairfield, who has worked with The Flying Doctors of Mercy for 20 years. She gives her time, talent and treasure to the organization. Earlier this year, she traveled to Mexico to provide care.
— Dr. Randolph Thomas, a pediatrician and Vacaville High School graduate, who participates in a medical mission for Project Mercy, an international emergency relief and community development ministry focused on helping Ethiopians. He also volunteers at the Helping Hand Clinic at Covenant Community Church in Vacaville.
Lifesaving Hero Award
— Staff Sgt. Markevis Holloway of Travis Air Force Base, who attended to an elderly couple and young woman after they were involved in a car accident on Interstate 80. He stayed on scene until paramedics arrived.
— Master Sgt. Roy Galloway of Travis Air Force Base, who was in line at the California Department of Motor Vehicles office in Fairfield when a man collapsed to the floor and seized. He utilized first aid to protect the man’s head and neck and turned the man on his side so he would not choke. He stayed on scene until paramedics arrived.
Public Safety Lifesaving Award
— Suisun City resident and San Francisco police Sgt. Martin Bandvik, who came to the aid of his Suisun City neighbor who had hanged himself in an attempted suicide.
— Capt. Steve McGraw of the Fairfield Fire Department, who jumped in the Fairfield Civic Center pond to rescue a man who appeared to be drowning, motionless and in distress.
— Darius Zarrabi, a firefighter and paramedic for Vacaville, who saved a man from drowning by getting both the man and his boat to shore safely.
Reach Amy Maginnis-Honey at 427-6957 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amaginnisdr.