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Treasure Island hero to present Bartow man with Carnegie Medal

Julian Fant displays his medal from 1960 and Michael Gay’s medal, which will be presented Saturday in Bartow.

Courtesy of Julian Fant

Julian Fant displays his medal from 1960 and Michael Gay’s medal, which will be presented Saturday in Bartow.

TREASURE ISLAND — When he was 27 years old, Julian Fant of Treasure Island received a Carnegie Medal.

Now at age 79, Fant will have the honor of presenting a Carnegie Medal to another hero, Michael Earl Gay, during a ceremony Saturday in Bartow.

The Carnegie Hero Fund honors people who risk their lives in some way to help others who are in dire straits.

Fant was an off-duty lifeguard and a newscaster for a local CBS radio affiliate in 1958 when he helped rescue a father and son who were among 10 people caught in rip tides north of St. Augustine.

Gay is being honored for saving a woman from a burning car in November 2009.

On Oct. 26, 1958, Fant, a native of St. Augustine, grabbed his tape recorder and got his family into the car to follow an ambulance up A1A to Ponte Vedra Beach.

He pulled up behind the ambulance and could see at least 10 people in the water beyond the breakers. A group of kids and adults in a rubber raft had flipped over while casting their fishing net.

A strong onshore wind was creating riptides.

Fant thought he would be going to report on the incident but soon found himself part of it.

A sheriff's deputy flagged down a fisherman and commandeered his boat. The deputy drove the boat while Fant stood at the bow. "Each time we would come to someone in the water I would go overboard and put them in the boat," said Fant.

The deputy headed back to shore with four people while Fant stayed in the water.

Fant saw someone floating face down. "Nobody knew about CPR in those days. All I could do was get his face out of the water." Another lifeguard swam out with a metal torpedo buoy.

"Every time we would get 100 feet we would go back 200," Fant recalled. "It was getting darker and darker. We were the only three left in the water and we were way out off the breaker line."

A Navy helicopter from Jacksonville eventually swept over the scene and found them with a search light. It dropped a sling and towed the three men through the surf and onto the beach.

Nine people were rescued, two of whom Fant was credited with saving — a father and son.

The whole ordeal kept Fant in the water for about three hours. "The thing I remember the most was that my adrenaline was pumping so hard that I didn't think that I would not get out of it," he said.

"I just kept looking up to the beach and seeing Millie and the kids, my sister and her husband, and the stars coming out over us. I never had the first qualm that we would not make it."

He wasn't aware that a high school classmate sent a letter to the Carnegie trustees, who conducted a two-year inquiry. In 1960, Fant received his medal.

Saturday's recipient, a survey technician from Bartow, was driving at night with his 13-year-old son along the rural highway near Alturas on Nov. 11, 2009, when he saw a fire erupt up the road.

Jodi Oakes' car had run off the road, hit a tree, and was in flames. Gay pulled the trapped woman from the passenger window.

Fifty percent of her body was burned, and Gay suffered second- and third-degree burns on his hands and arms. Both recovered after hospital care.

Gay's award was announced in December 2010.

Fant will present Gay's medal on Saturday in a city park adjacent to the downtown Polk County Courthouse in Bartow.

In 2010, Carnegie trustees felt that it would be much more prestigious to have a Carnegie Medal holder present the award to a new recipient.

Doug Chambers, director of external affairs, says he likes the enthusiasm of the volunteers who are presenting. Also, because they have had some association with the heroes, it puts some perspective on it for those who are being newly honored.

The 21-member board meets four times a year and votes on each award. It issues about 100 medals per year between Canada and the United States.

Fast facts

• Julian Fant's son, Charlie, was 7 years old when he watched his dad perform his heroic act. Perhaps that influenced his choice of profession, firefighting. He graduated with the first paramedic class in Pinellas County and now serves as fire chief of the Treasure Island department. Fant served for 30 years with the Treasure Island Volunteer Fire Department, often working alongside his son at fire and rescue calls.

• The Carnegie Hero Fund was founded in 1904 by Andrew Carnegie, a multimillionaire (from steel industry) and philanthropist from Scotland.

• First medals presented in 1907 for a mine explosion in Pennsylvania in January 1904.

• 9,391 awards have been bestowed, and a total of $32.7 million has been given in one-time grants, scholarship aid, death benefits, and continuing assistance.

Treasure Island hero to present Bartow man with Carnegie Medal 02/08/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 8, 2011 5:51pm]
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