A 12-year-old Norristown boy who died last year after running back into his house to try to save his father from a raging fire is one of 20 recipients of a national award honoring acts of bravery, the Pittsburgh-based Carnegie Hero Fund Commission announced Wednesday.
Sanford Harling III, nicknamed "Man Man," died after attempting to rescue his father, Sanford Harling Jr., from their burning home on the morning of Feb. 5, 2016.
He didn't realize that his 58-year-old father, who was recovering from hip-replacement surgery, was able to escape from a second-floor window of their three-story brick house.
The Carnegie Medal is awarded throughout the United States and Canada to those who display "acts of outstanding civilian heroism" in risking their lives to save others, the fund said in a news release. Sanford was the youngest recipient and the only one from Pennsylvania.
Two others awarded the medal this month -- a 35-year-old man from Tennessee and a 56-year-old Massachusetts man -- had also died during their heroic acts.
Harling Jr., now 59, called his son "my hero" and "my angel" in a phone interview Wednesday. About 9 a.m. that tragic day, the father noticed fire and smoke on the first floor of the family's house on the 1000 block of Markley Street.
"I yelled for everybody to get up and get out of the house," he said. His wife, Dana Henderson; his son, "Man Man"; his 14-year-old daughter; and his 23-year-old stepson had gotten out, but the father was trapped on the second floor by the growing flames.
Harling Jr. searched for a window to jump from and realized that if he dived out of his son's bedroom, he could land on grass.
About that same time, Harling Jr. later learned, his son broke free from a family friend who was holding him outside the house. "I'm going to go back in to get my dad because he's walking with a walker," his son told the friend.
Sanford never made it out. Firefighters later found him on the first floor.
The seventh grader at Lakeside School in North Wales, who was part of the Norristown Youth Eagles Football Program, had died of smoke inhalation and thermal burns.
His father suffered some broken ribs and fractures in his back, femur, and the same hip on which he had had surgery.
"I'm still trying to recover," he said. He had to use a wheelchair for a few months and is now on crutches.
The family has since moved to a new home in Norristown.
The Norristown Fire Department nominated Sanford for the award. "As we said from the beginning, he was a hero," Fire Chief Tom O'Donnell said.
Eric Zahren, executive director of the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission, a private foundation, said each award comes with a one-time initial grant of $5,000.