A True Crimson and Blue Hero

Oct. 25, 2011

Seratte in 1987Ask any-student athlete about the intensity of playing a collegiate sport and they will tell you even though they pour their heart and soul to into it, it is merely just a game and not a matter of life and death. That may have been true for Scott Seratte 25 years ago, when he played shortstop for Kansas from 1986-87, but fast forward a quarter of a century and the Lawrence native is being recognized for making one of those life and death decisions in his current job as a Lieutenant for the Lawrence Fire Department.

Last week, Seratte, a member of the department for more than 20 years, received the first annual “Life Saving Medal of Valor” from the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce. His quick thinking during a fire at a daycare facility in March 2010 helped save a woman’s life as she was lying unconscious inside a burning building.

The 46-year old was recognized along with 11 of his colleagues at a special luncheon hosted by the Chamber last week.

“What struck us (at the Chamber) about Scott and the other fire fighters, was that they don’t normally work together,” said Chamber spokeswoman Eileen Hawley. “They all are professionals and they know what their job is and how they are supposed to do it, but the additional challenge that they faced was having to fight the fire when they were not used to working together.”

That added component of unfamiliarity came for a specific reason on that early March morning.

“That was not even my regular day to work,” Seratte remembered. “I was working overtime, when a call came in and you could tell by the voice of the dispatcher that it was something serious.”

Thankfully the call was only a few blocks away, so Seratte and his crew rushed over to the scene to start trying to get the blaze under control.

“We pulled up, got out and I told my crew to grab the hose and get the truck ready,” Seratte said. “While they were doing their assignments, I just did a quick walk-through to get a visual of the building. Eventually we made our initial entry, fought the fire and knocked the flames down. That’s when I told the crew, ‘okay we are going to start our search.’

It was then that Seratte found something that appeared to be a body in a nearby room.

“When I turned, I went into a bedroom and a person was lying right there,” he remembered. “It was tough because you couldn’t see with all the smoke and your equipment, so I actually started to crawl over the top of her and had to take a second before I was able to feel where her head, shoulders and legs were. As soon as I realized that, I turned to the person behind me and said ‘we have a victim.’

Seratte and his crew would then pick this unidentified woman up, carry her out of the burning structure and place her in the yard, where they would check her vital signs. After realizing that she was in fact alive, they would turn her over to the medic unit and continue fighting the fire that had done an estimated $160,000 worth of damage to the home on the 2400 block of Harper Street in Lawrence.

“She could walk up to me on the street and I would have no idea who she was,” Seratte said. “I did not get a really good look at her because I had my mask on the whole time, but I have never heard anything from her since.”

As to whether or not the former Jayhawk diamond hero should be viewed as a legitimate real life hero, he is quick to put those rumblings to rest.

“You just look at it like it’s your job and that it is what you are expected to do. We helped someone and saved them, but we are not the first ones to do this. I know guys in our department from years back who have done things similar to this, but because of when it was there was no real award for them. What they did was not any less special than what we did,” he said.

Hawley thinks it’s because of lifesaving acts like these that the Chamber decided to create an award such as this, to recognize men and women who so courageously serve Lawrence.

“We really created this program because our quality of life that we enjoy here, is really directly related to the commitment all of our public safety employees,” she said. “These people get a lot of peer-to-peer acknowledgements, but they don’t tend to get a lot of acknowledgements from the communities that they serve. This is an opportunity for those in Lawrence to recognize and say ‘thank you’ to the people who protect their lives, homes and businesses.”

Even though Seratte thinks his actions might not have been out of the ordinary for a typical firefighter, he admits it was definitely a morale boost for him and his co-workers who have seen more tragic outcomes in similar situations.

“Typically when we get there people are already out or if they are still in the structure, they are dead,” Seratte said. “So it was different in that we had a legitimate savable person and it’s nice when we do have one like this because it’s good for everybody at the department.”

Along with his glass award, Seratte was able to bring home something even more special after the recognition ceremony last week. The father of three would be able to tell his children that each of them would be getting a $1,000 stipend toward their college education, once they graduate high school.

“It is a great reward because part of the reason I do the job is not only because I enjoy it, but it is also a way of providing for my family,” the valor recipient said. “I would say the best way you could reward me for doing a good job would be to do something for my kids and my family.”

Despite having not played baseball at KU for longer than two decades, the former infielder cannot help but see parallels between how his mentality as a student-athlete aided him in future situations like the one he faced almost a year and a half ago.

Seratte (far left) and the 1987 senior class“You have to perform at a certain level under some stressful situations,” the two-year letterwinner said. “You train just like we do at the fire service, you look at situations and think, ‘okay what are we going to do when this happens’ as far as preparation goes.”

The focus and preparation helped the right handed hitter amass 40 hits, 18 RBI and a .308 batting average during his two years in the Crimson and Blue.

“Then there is the aspect of focus, where you are in the eighth or ninth inning, you are down a run and need to drive someone in with a 1-2 count on you. Because of those situations, you kind of develop that kind of focus and it carries over throughout your life.”

“When they found that woman, they were within 30 seconds of being called out of the house because it might collapse,” Hawley said. “So this is really where seconds made a difference.”

Fortunately for the woman Seratte saved, both his training at the Lawrence Fire Department as well as his preparation as a student-athlete at KU paid off.

2010 Fire Coverage: http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2010/mar/06/crews-respond-harper-street-fire-one-reported-inju/

2011 Valor Award Coverage: http://6lawrence.com/news/local/lawrence-first-responders-to-receive-valor-awards/

2011 Valor Award Website: http://www.lawrencekansasvalorawards.org/pg/honorees.html