In his 30 years of firefighting, battling the Sept. 11, 2005, two-alarm blaze in a downtown Rota, Spain, apartment complex was “one of the worst-case scenarios I’ve ever seen,” Timothy Ybarra said.

People were trapped. Heavy smoke billowed from the complex. He had limited resources.

But the assistant fire chief made it work, and what Ybarra and five other Naval Station Rota firefighters did for two hours that weekend morning spelled the difference between life and death for 28 people — and earned the team the International Benjamin Franklin Fire Service Award for Valor.

“That’s like winning the Oscar of firefighting awards,” said base spokesman Lt. Mike Morley.

Last week, five of the six firefighters were in Dallas to collect the award and accolades, the first time in 37 years that a military-based firefighting team had won the international award, Morley said.

It puts them on par with the New York City fire department, for example, which received the 2001 award for its rescue mission at the World Trade Center following the terrorist attacks.

“It was totally unexpected, and I never expected anything of this magnitude,” Ybarra, 50, said Friday in a phone interview. “It’s pretty gratifying to be recognized by your peers.”

Earlier this year, the six each was honored with the Navy Fire and Emergency Services Life Saving Award, the 2005 Navy Firefighter Heroism Award, and the Defense Department’s Fire and Emergency Services Heroism Award.

“The personal risk of life that these brave firefighters [took] must not be understated, what these six firefighters accomplished was miraculous, and they did it without regard for self-preservation,” reads a part of the Navy citation.

What weighs heavily for Ybarra, and the rest of the crew, he said, is that two people perished in the blaze — a man who fell into the pit of the fire, and an infant girl who was rescued, but died at the hospital of severe burns.

Firefighter Jeronimo Enriquez rescued 16 people from the building’s third floor, and firefighter Ramon Pravia rescued nine from the second floor. Pravia was injured in the blaze.

Firefighters Javier Arellano, and former Petty Officer 3rd Class David Jimenez rescued three more people from a second-floor apartment. Driver/operator Manuel Ramos also was honored.

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