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A volunteer firefighter with Down syndrome was honored after helping save four kids from a burning house

A one-of-a-kind hero got a first-of-its-kind award after helping to save kids


KELSO, Wash. (KATU) — Heroes do tend to be the quiet type: they usually don't like talking about themselves. Ryan LaFave is no exception. The volunteer firefighter with Cowlitz 2 Fire & Rescue in Kelso would much rather talk "Dukes of Hazard" than how he helped save four neighborhood kids from their burning house. But last summer that's just what the 22-year-old with Down syndrome did.

When two neighbor kids ran to Ryan's house to get help when a fire started in their kitchen, Ryan called 911 and then made sure the other kids, who had special needs as well, stayed out of the house until the fire department got there.

"There was a lot of chaos, a lot of pets, a lot of children, a working fire, and Ryan was a calming force, that's what the duty chief told me," said Ryan's dad, Dave LaFave, who is also the chief at Cowlitz 2 Fire & Rescue.

For Ryan's heroic effort, the Washington state fire marshal wanted to give Ryan a newly minted challenge coin -- the first they've ever made -- and wanted to be sure Ryan got the very first one.

"Ryan’s actions show he has a servant's heart. And that’s the difference," said Washington Fire Marshal Charles LeBlanc. "It’s the servant's heart that makes the difference. Not everybody has it. For those who do have it, they don’t always act on it. Ryan did both that day."

Challenge coins are handed out by organizations who want to recognize people who do something memorable, who go above and beyond. The chief of the Washington State Patrol thought Ryan deserved one of their challenge coins too, so he came along to present it to Ryan on Wednesday.

Last September, Ryan got a coin from the Cowlitz 2 crew. While Ryan was in high school, he graduated from Cowlitz's "Fire Science" program, where learned most of his fire training and preparedness.

"It’s not about what they can’t do," said his dad, Dave LaFave. "It’s always about what they can do. And that’s been his approach his whole life. And with his brother and sister too. It’s about what they can do, and he’s certainly demonstrated that he has the capacity to be successful."

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