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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, June 20, 2002

Heroism in house fire remembered

By Vicki Viotti
Advertiser Staff Writer

Mike Sales saw the commotion and the smoke from Lanakila Street as he drove home Feb. 27 from his delivery job. He says he can't remember exactly what he thought when he saw that the burning house, at 1511 Adelaide St., was his.

Mike Sales, left, and fire Capt. Earle Kealoha Jr., right, recall their actions during a Feb. 27 house fire. Sales helped save his uncle, Pascual Oasay, and an aunt, while Kealoha helped the understaffed Kuakini station fire crew.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

But heroism derives from action, not only thoughts. And now everyone, including those similarly honored at yesterday's Honolulu Fire Department awards ceremony, knows what he did.

Sales, 47, knew his elderly kin were within, and he dashed in and ran upstairs.

"There was all smoke," he said. "I had to do this" — and he demonstrated how he groped about through the stinging, murky air.

He came down with his aunt, and then an uncle, Pascual Oasay, who joined him at the ceremony.

"I was in the bathroom, I didn't know," Oasay said. "If he didn't rescue me, I'd be gone. ... He kicked down the door."

Tragically, when Sales returned to the house, the inferno had spread and forced him to retreat. Another aunt, Pascual Oasay's sister-in-law, Pia Oasay, died in the fire.

Also honored for his assistance was fire Capt. Earle Kealoha Jr., who, although off duty at the time, pitched in to help the Kuakini station fire crew, which was understaffed on that day.

Yesterday's honorees included other department staff who lent added muscle to various firefighting and rescue operations. But most of the 29 recipients of certificates of commendation were civilian volunteers.

"Those involved have stepped up and put their lives on the line," said Fire Chief Attilio Leonardi.

The ceremony scheduling was fortunate for one recipient, Jussi Tuovinen, a visiting electrical engineering professor from the University of Hawai'i due to return to Finland tomorrow. A former volunteer firefighter in Helsinki, Tuovinen ran almost instinctively to seize a garden hose March 17 when fire broke out at his neighbor's home on 11th Avenue. Two years of training had the desired effect, he said.

"I could smell the smoke, something plastic," he said. "You can distinguish the smell from the smell of charcoal burning."

That smell may be etched in Tuovinen's mind, but Sales would rather forget. The family is rebuilding the home and in a few months they expect to move back in.

Does Sales want to return home, despite that day of horror?

"Oh, yes," he said with a smile.

Other honorees:

  • For structure fires — Isabel Bailey, Randy Ching, John Elliott, Fire Fighter I Hank Kaiwi Jr., Divino Pazcoguin, Francis Silva, Lalago Byrd, Ida Elliott, Cory Graves, Gerald Kang, Ted Okada, Edward Peltier, Andy Sexton, Gerard Vierra.
  • For rubbish fires —Stephen Gaspar.
  • For medical emergencies — Fire Fighter I Keith Condon, Fire Fighter Recruit Ivan Kaneshiro, Dr. Christopher B. Soltis, James Dold, Mary McCullough, Fire Fighter II Trevor Wilson.
  • For rescues — Fire Fighter III Edward Hanohano, Dan Melmed, John Tuitele, James Riddle, Jay Zarghami

Reach Vicki Viotti at vviotti@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8053.