Emergency responders, doctors and extraordinary San Diego citizens were honored at the Spirit of Courage Awards on Thursday.
For over 30 years, The Burn Institute has recognized the courage and valor in life saving efforts.
Among Thursday’s recipients were two San Diego Fire Fighters, credited for risking their own lives to save two children.
Luis and Esmerelda Castro were at death's door, losing consciousness in their beds as their home in Mount Hope was going up in flames.
Two local firefighters pushed the very limits of their training to get both of them out of the burning house.
It was an emotional reunion between San Diego Firefighter Dallas Higgins and the victim's Uncle Ramon Vasquez.
“I got off of work and I came straight here. I just want them to know how grateful and appreciative I am,” Vasquez said.
Higgins and fellow firefighter Joe Zakar were presented the Spirit of Courage Award for their life saving efforts.
“We were very fortunate to have saved two children's lives that day. I'm blessed to have been able to be a part of that,” Zakar said.
In November last year, firefighters were called to the Vasquez house.
In a back bedroom, was three-year old Esmerelda Castro, her five-year old brother Luis, and 12-year old brother Fernando.
“It is every firefighters dream and it's every firefighter’s nightmare,” Zakar said.
Higgins was the first one through the window and discovered that Fernando was already dead. He pulled Luis, who was barely breathing, to safety.
But Esmerelda was still inside.
“I know she is there but conditions are just getting so bad it's driving me out. It was probably one of the most frustrating things,” Higgins said.
Dallas came out with second degree burns on his ears, head and back.
Then, Zakar went in found Esmerelda on the floor, unconscious but alive.
“You never want to see children hurt. In the job that we do, every day I think the calls that affect us the most are children,” Zakar said.
Six months later, the family is still recovering but the prognosis is good.
These fire fighters gave two small children a second chance at growing up and hope to the Vasquez family.
Despite significant burns Esmerelda was released from the hospital in March and will start kindergarten in the fall. Luis is doing better but still hospitalized.
The Vasquez family is also rebuilding their home.