An Unalaska fire captain has been recognized as Alaska’s emergency medical responder of the year.
Medic Salvador Alvarado won the award for a bold rescue last winter, beating out more than 40 EMS providers across the state.
The call came in at 12:45 p.m.: Ammonia was leaking inside an industrial freezer at the Kloosterboer cold storage facility.
Captain Salvador Alvarado rushed to the scene, where he learned that a worker was trapped inside with the toxic chemical.
“I was approached by the guy doing maintenance, and he told me there was somebody in there. I said, ‘What? I did not know!’”
He told a dozen of his fellow responders to wait outside while he donned his gear and ducked into the freezer. He spotted the worker lying unconscious on a scissor lift, 25 feet in the air.
“It didn’t look good," said Alvarado. "But I went back and I told the guys, ‘We’re going to go in. We’re going to get him out.’ They questioned my suggestion because of the hazardous environment. So I told them, ‘I’ll go in.’”
Alvarado is a longtime employee of Westward Seafoods, so he was confident he could work the lift and lower the man to the safety. But once he was back inside the freezer, his bulky firefighting gloves got in the way as tried to operate the control panel.
"So I took the gloves off, knowing that the ammonia was going to bite," he said. "I had a sensation like electricity in my fingers and in my hand.”
Ammonia exposure burns the skin, eyes, and lungs, and it can eventually lead to respiratory failure. But Alvarado said he ignored his tingling hands as he brought the lift to the ground, carried the man from the freezer, and started the decontamination process with the rest of his crew.
“It was very rewarding when we saw the individual take a breath." he said.
Still, the man’s injuries were serious. He was flown to Anchorage and then Seattle for emergency treatment. But he survived.
The state honored Alvarado for helping to save the man's life at the annual EMS Symposium last month. He won the 2017 EMS Provider Award after being nominated by Senior Fire Captain Mike Hanson
“I don’t think I did nothing spectacular," said Alvarado. "I believe any human being has compassion and will try to do the best for anybody else.”
Alvarado has served as an EMT and firefighter in Unalaska for about 15 years. He encourages anyone interested in joining the volunteer crew to contact the Department of Public Safety.