Teen's selfless heroism in Great Barrington mountain rescue lauded with award, medal

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GREAT BARRINGTON — When Henry Grant scrambled up a Monument Mountain ledge last summer, he put his own life at risk to help an injured woman.

Grant, 18, had to shimmy on all fours along a narrow path, digging in the dirt with his hands and feet for traction, to reach the woman, who had fallen about 75 feet from the Squaw Peak overlook above.

His selfless actions paid off for the woman, whom he comforted until rescuers could help safely evacuate them.And now they have paid off for Grant: The South Egremont man has been honored with a Lifesaving Award — and $5,000 — from the Humane Society of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts."At first I just thought it was another reporter asking to write about [the rescue]," Grant said of the unusual phone call he received last month. "It turned out to be a small organization that scans newspapers to find instances of rescues."The nonprofit society was established in 1786 to save lives, and to honor the heroic acts of people who risk their lives to save others.

The society is based in Chestnut Hill, and its board meets every few months and considers nominations based on recent rescues in which the level of risk to the good Samaritan is high, according to Jane Zuroff, the society's administrator. The recipients have to be residents of Massachusetts who perform a rescue anywhere, or a nonresident recipient who saves someone in Massachusetts, Zuroff said.

Public safety employees and military personnel are excluded, unless they are off-duty. Families of lifesavers can receive awards if the person attempting the rescue dies.

By a unanimous vote, Grant received the silver medal Lifesaver Award, the society's highest honor.

"It's very discreet," said Allison Weber, who scans the news for the society. "It's only between the organization and the hero themselves."

Grant was shy to talk about it, but grateful.

"It's pretty cool, especially being in college, where money is always wanted," said the Ithaca College business major. "It was totally unexpected."

Now he is in the company of those who have pulled people from burning cars and buildings, saved them from drowning, or located a downed aircraft on a Berkshire mountainside amid subzero temperatures.

Grant was hiking with his mother Aug. 10 when he was seized by an impulse to help the woman, Paula Kaplan-Reiss, who suffered more than a dozen broken bones and a concussion in the fall.

"Her husband was calling her name, and there was no response," he told The Eagle after the rescue.

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Grant rushed to the area and found her perched on a ledge 25 feet above, in a kneeling position, and about to slip off every time she tried to move. He told her to hold still, called 911 and crawled up the side of the mountain on all fours to stay near her until rescuers arrived.

Another man soon joined him, and the two kept her occupied while waiting hours for rescuers to rappel down, treat her and lift all of them back up to the peak.

Kaplan-Reiss said that she'll always be grateful for Grant's impulse of selflessness.

"He wasn't expecting [an award], and that's not why he did it," she said.

Zuroff said it was the level of risk to himself that that inspired the trustees to give the award to Grant.

The society also gives grants to other nonprofits with programs that prevent accidents, injury and death, primarily in the water, and related health sciences and other academic research. Some of those recipients include the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary's New Bedford Flotilla and Boston MedFlight.

Historically, the society centered its work around the prevention of drowning on the open seas as a result of shipwrecks, and its mission was inspired by the British Humane Society, according to its website. But, its aim was always to prevent situations that were a recipe for water deaths. It made broad efforts, including funding supplies of lifeboats, and building a bathhouse on the Charles River in 1798 because Harvard students were drowning while bathing.

The first medal and 28 shillings was awarded to a man in 1786 for saving a boy who fell through the ice on a mill pond.

But, the incident at Monument Mountain isn't the first Berkshires rescue that has led to a Lifesaver Award.

Thomas Melucci, 18, received one in 2003 after locating a downed aircraft and hiking up a Monterey mountain in subzero temperatures to look for survivors. On March, 5, 2003, a private plane carrying a couple and their five children crashed on Mount Wilcox in Beartown State Forest.

Melucci, of Halifax, had served with the Plymouth Civil Air Patrol, and was alerted by his beeper to the site of the crash. The high school senior and several others drove through a blizzard to get there, and joined other crews, hiking through the snow to reach the survivors, who were suffering from extreme hypothermia from spending 18 hours on the mountainside.

Melucci and his team found a boy, 2, in a stream bed. Two other boys, ages 5 and 10, also survived.

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.


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