Carnegie Medal Presentation to Thomas Elbrecht


Unified Fire Chief Dominic Burchett, right, presented the Carnegie Medal to firefighter Thomas Elbrecht at a private ceremony held on June 25 at the Unified Fire Authority station in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Elbrecht, 31, of South Salt Lake, Utah, was awarded the Carnegie Medal after he rendered first aid for several hours to a man who had broken his femur in an avalanche in Millcreek, Utah, on Dec. 14, 2022.

While backcountry skiing in a remote area of the Wasatch Mountain Range, Travis Haussener, 35, was caught in a 200-foot wide, 2-foot deep avalanche that surged downhill and enveloped him. The snow slammed him against a tree where he was pinned with severe injuries. Only his head and an arm remained unburied. He shouted for help. Within earshot while backcountry skiing himself, Elbrecht heard Haussener’s calls. He followed Haussener’s tracks in the snow to the bottom of the avalanche-debris pile, where he then hiked up the steep slope and unburied Haussener, whose severe injuries inhibited him from moving to safety. Elbrecht used his cell phone to inform authorities about Haussener’s injuries after he moved him to a flat nearby. He used a ski pole as a makeshift splint to stabilize Haussener’s leg and built a small shelter to shield him from the frigid conditions. He removed some of Haussener’s wet clothes and provided him with dry clothes including an extra jacket Haussener had in his backpack and Elbrecht’s own jacket and gloves. With the threat of another avalanche looming, Elbrecht remained with Haussener as rescue crews came up with a plan. A rescue helicopter responded but was unable to affect a rescue because of the steep slope and closely packed, tall trees. Eventually, two rescue personnel on the ground found them. Elbrecht helped lower Haussener to a spot where he was moved by toboggan and then snowmobile to a waiting ambulance. Haussener spent a few days in the hospital and endured a lengthy rehabilitation to his leg. Elbrecht was cold and hungry after spending several hours with Haussener, even beyond sunset, but was not injured.

Haussener told KSLTV that Elbrecht huddled with the man for eight hours while they waited for rescuers. 

“I was the coldest I’ve ever been in my life,” Haussener told reporters from his hospital bed. “(Elbrecht is) a hero, man. He kept me smiling. He kept making jokes. He kept talking to me. He kept me warm, he hugged me when I was getting too cold.”