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B.C. man awarded ‘highest honour for civilian heroism in North America’

Junyi Liu, 41, received the Carnegie Medal for saving an elderly woman from the flames
Junyi Liu, 41, saved an elderly woman from the flames during the Comox Esso fire in May 2023. A few months later, he was awarded the Courage & Bravery Local Hero Award. Liu (middle) poses surrounded by firefighters of the Comox Fire Rescue during the award ceremony on Sept. 6. (Connor McDowell / Comox Valley Record)

When a vehicle collision ignited his gas station, Comox Valley resident Junyi Liu rushed outside to rescue the trapped driver on the evening of May 20, 2023.

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In the following months, the 41-year-old man was awarded the Town of Comox’s Citizen Service Award and the Courage & Bravery Local Hero Award.

Little did he know, Liu’s local act of heroism would eventually be recognized on the North American stage. On March 25, 2024, the Chinese-born man was awarded the prestigious Carnegie Medal and a one-time grant of US$5,500.

“It’s considered the highest honour for civilian heroism in North America,” said Jewels Phraner, Carnegie Hero Fund Commission director of communication. “More than 10,000 medals have been given out over the course of the commission’s 120-year history.”

The requirements to be a recipient of this award are extremely stringent, explained Phraner.

“A person must voluntarily risk themselves to an extraordinary degree in saving or attempting to save another person,” she said.

Following the incident, Liu told Black Press Media that despite the danger and initial fear, his instinct kicked in and the rest is history.

“Everything I did was just automatic, I didn’t think about anything. It went so fast,” Liu said in May 2023. “I didn’t think that I did something big. I think anyone else who would have been there would have done the same thing as I did.”

According to Phraner, Liu’s story perfectly fits with the medal’s ethos.

“This was an extraordinary act and Junyi kept his wits about him. He risked his life to pull the driver out of this car that was completely covered in flames. I think that that speaks to his character and speaks to him as a person.”

Scottish-American philanthropist and industrialist Andrew Carnegie started the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission initiative in 1904 to highlight civilian acts of heroism so they would not go unnoticed.

“Andrew Carnegie… knew that he couldn’t (push) others to act heroically, but he thought that the world would be a better place if we all knew about… these heroes,” said Phraner.

“We have found that a lot of our heroes are extremely humble. They think that they did something that anyone would do and they were just in the right place at the right time,” Phraner said. “I think one of the biggest values of becoming a Carnegie hero is that we are an independent organization that can point to people and objectively say ‘What you did was special and brave.’ ”

Black Press Media reached out to Liu for comments on receiving the award but did not receive a reply by deadline.

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Olivier Laurin

About the Author: Olivier Laurin

I’m a bilingual multimedia journalist from Montréal who began my journalistic journey on Vancouver Island with The Comox Valley Record in 2023.
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