CLINTON — Two Maine police officers were among 15 Americans awarded Carnegie medals for heroism this week for their efforts to save individuals trapped by fire.

The two officers, Phillip DiLuca of the Clinton Police Department and former Dover-Foxcroft Police Sgt. Todd Lyford, were honored by the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission along with two other law enforcement officers. The Carnegie commission awarded 15 heroism medals to 15 Americans and three Canadians this week.

In June 2017, DiLuca rushed into a burning mobile home to save a sleeping resident. Lyford, who is now chief deputy at the Piscataquis County Sheriff’s Office, saved a 65-year-old woman from a burning vehicle in July 2018.

Officer Phillip DiLuca of the Clinton Police Department stands in the town office in Clinton on Friday. DiLuca has been named a Carnegie hero for saving a man from a burning trailer in June 2017. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

Established in 1904, the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission has given more than 10,000 medals and $40 million in grants and assistance to its heroes in its 115 years.

The actions of two men during the Harwick Coal Disaster inspired Andrew Carnegie to establish the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission. The disaster, a mass explosion at a mine near Harwick, Pennsylvania, in January 1904, killed 181 people, including two men who were rushing toward the mine to help others escape. Honoring acts of civilian heroism and providing financial assistance to the dependents of those killed while helping others, the commission defines a hero as “a civilian who knowingly risks his or her own life to an extraordinary degree while saving or attempting to save the life of another person.”

The Carnegie commission recognized Lyford for a July 2018 incident in which he reached into a burning vehicle to extract a woman trapped inside after her vehicle crashed into a tree. According to the commission, Lyford was the first person on the scene and attempted to put out the flames with a fire extinguisher.

Lyford then opened the front door of the vehicle, which was three feet off the ground, and “extended his upper body and arms inside the flaming vehicle and grasped the woman’s upper body, pulling her to the ground and then a short distance from the vehicle.” The woman survived for several days before dying from injuries sustained in the crash.

Police tape surrounds the mobile home at 13 Gold St. in Evergreen Terrace mobile home park in Clinton on June 14, 2017. Clinton police Officer Phillip DiLuca has been named a Carnegie hero for entering the burning building and rescuing Shawn Skehan, who was asleep in bed while the fire spread from the attic. Morning Sentinel file photo by David Leaming

DiLuca, now a four-year veteran of the Clinton Police Department, was getting off work just before midnight, June 13, 2017, when he heard a report of a fire at a mobile home on Gold Street. He turned the truck around and headed for the fire.

“So there was a fire the month before in the same mobile home park and the trailer was burned down within like seven minutes,” DiLuca said in an interview Friday. “And so when I heard the report, I knew the response time from the fire department would take five to seven minutes, and so I just turned my car around and headed there.”

Upon arrival, DiLuca found 8- to 10-foot flames whipping wildly from the roof of the mobile home and a group of neighbors surrounding the house visibly distressed that the occupant, Shawn Skehan, hadn’t come out.

After unsuccessfully trying to break down the front door, DiLuca ran to the back of the home where he was able to get through the back door.

“I looked inside and the house was just totally smoked out,” DiLuca said. “The back door was a little older so I managed to kick it in, but when I did, it was like all the smoke was pressurized. A bunch of smoke just blew into my face and I fell to my knees and threw up. But once I was able to catch my breath, I moved inside.”

Once inside the home, DiLuca said he saw that the bathroom, kitchen and ceiling were engulfed in flames. He grabbed a dish towel hanging off the oven door and used it to cover his mouth while he searched through bedrooms, closets and the laundry room for Skehan, but he didn’t find him.

Then he did one last scan of the trailer and noticed a blue light from a television coming from under a doorway. He opened the door to find Skehan in bed, asleep under the covers and unharmed by the fire.

Shawn Skehan in his home in 2018. Skehan was rescued from a fire by Clinton police Officer Phil DiLuca on June 13, 2017. DiLuca was named a Carnegie hero this week. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel file photo

DiLuca managed to wake Skehan and guide him out of the burning trailer to safety.

“Once I was outside that’s when Clinton’s Fire Department started to roll up,” DiLuca said. “I had to spend some time in the ambulance on oxygen just to recover. My uniform was pretty melted, but Shawn was totally fine.”

DiLuca said an exhaust fan in one of the home’s showers became clogged with dust and caused the motor to heat up and catch fire. The fire first spread throughout the attic before enveloping the home.

In the days following the rescue, DiLuca said he carried on his daily routine as normal. He didn’t expect the story to garner much attention. But once the police department posted a small write-up on Facebook, he said the response was overwhelming.

“I just woke up, went to work, did everything as normal. I didn’t expect any of this,” DiLuca said. “But the post had thousands of likes and shares within hours. I had people from all over the country reaching out to me.”

Even with the outpouring of praise for his heroic deed, DiLuca said he was just doing his job.

“Why would I drive past something like that?” DiLuca said. “I didn’t think. I just did … it was out of instinct. This is what we do as law enforcement officers. We make a difference.”

DiLuca received the Life Saving Award from the Maine Chiefs of Police Association and the Real Heroes Award from the Red Cross, but he was still surprised at the phone call he got just four days ago.

“I was at a training in Augusta and a number from Pittsburgh was calling me,” DiLuca said. “So I picked up and they told me that I’d been named a Carnegie hero and I was surprised at first, mostly because I’d forgotten all about the nomination … it had been over a year since I received a letter in the mail saying I had been nominated so I honestly forgot about it, but of course I’m super grateful.”

Clinton Police Chief Stanley “Rusty” Bell said the decision to nominate DiLuca was simple.

“I nominated him because he’s an amazing guy,” Bell said. “What he did that night, he went above and beyond his duties as an officer.”

DiLuca said he’s most grateful for the opportunity to show the public a positive image of law enforcement through the publicity of his award.

“I’m taking advantage of all of this to show the public what we do, we do this stuff all the time,” DiLuca said. “But these days there’s so much negativity towards law enforcement, and of course there’s been a few rotten apples, but that doesn’t speak for the whole bunch. … I’m grateful to be a part of such a prestigious foundation, and I’m taking the opportunity not to better my own image, but to better the image of law enforcement overall.”

Press Herald Staff Writer Kevin Miller contributed to this report.

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