Medal of Valor awarded in rescue of disabled man from fire

Local News

A Vermont man received a Medal of Valor from the state for pulling a disabled man from a burning apartment building in Burlington in June.

At the time, it seemed like everything was going wrong for George Elwood, who was trying to get himself and Paul Betz Jr., who uses a wheelchair, out of the South Meadow apartment building.

At first, they were met with shattered glass falling from the ceiling.

“The chair decided to break and that second the wall decided to break into a 20 foot wall of fire,” Ellwood explained. “I knew that if I disconnected the motors we could free wheel it down but that meant leaning into the fire which was kind of nasty. Honestly, it hurt like hell. The only reason I did it was for Paul.”

Betz is a client at Colchester-based Champlain Community Services. Ellwood, a retired law enforcement official, is a director support professional.

“We just had a good time,” he said of their time together. “Unfortunately that Saturday, was not.”

Because of Ellwood’s quick thinking, both men survived.

Once they escaped, Ellwood took Betz to the hospital.

Ellwood suffered first- and second-degree burns on his back and arm.

Thursday, the State of Vermont surprised him with the Medal of Valor at the Champlain Community Services monthly staff meeting.

“It’s an honor that’s given only rarely, but so appropriately today,” said Monica Hutt, commissioner of the Department of Disabilities, Aging & Independent Living. “You represent the best of us, and we’re so grateful to have you as part of the developmental disability community here in Vermont. Thank you so much.”

“When everything went bad, and it was not a pleasant time…I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t do it,” said Ellwood after receiving the award.

“It’s kind of embarrassing,” Ellwood added, with tears in his eyes.

If he doesn’t want to boast, there are others who will do it for him.

“I would like to say thank you to George Ellwood for pulling me out of the fire. If it wasn’t for George, I might not be where I am now,” wrote Paul Betz Jr. in a statement.

“It’s wonderful. He deserved to be recognized for what he did. He doesn’t ever think about but he would do the same thing again,” said Robin Ellwood, George Ellwood’s wife.

“My son’s happy and healthy and here and you know, there are no words to describe it. I’ll owe this man a debt forever,” said Betz’ father, Paul Betz Sr.

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