Most of the year, Joshua Lapp lives with his father in Hesperia. But every summer, the 17 year old and his siblings head north to spend several weeks with their mother in Sacramento.
Because of Lapp's annual trip, two people are alive today.
Lapp's heroism -- pulling two people out of a burning apartment building that was soon thereafter consumed in flames -- was recognized by the Carnegie Hero Fund, who awarded him a medal in December for his actions.
After midnight on July 14, 2007, Lapp was standing outside his mother's ground floor apartment, talking on his cell phone.
The grandson of his mother's neighbor, Gloria Collins, ran up to him in a panic.
"Her grandson said, 'call 911: Her house is on fire!'"
As Lapp called the fire department -- Collins had gone to bed, leaving candles burning -- Collins' grandsons threw rocks through some of the apartment's windows and kicked in the front door, hoping to clear out the smoke inside.
"Of course, that just made it worse."
Fed by a ready supply of more oxygen, the flames burned hotter and faster and the apartment filled with even more smoke.
"My mom came out and we could hear Gloria screaming," Lapp said. "The flames weren't at her yet, and we yelled 'come out, come out!'"
Then the window filled with flames. Lapp and his mother went around to another window and knocked out the glass, intending to pull her through if she got to them. But Collins was lost somewhere in the smoke inside.
"Everybody there was just staring. I said 'give me a flashlight, give me something,' but they were just frozen."
While Lapp went to look for a flashlight in his mother's apartment, an adult neighbor, Brian Haberman, went into Collins' apartment to pull her out, but was overcome by smoke himself.
Unable to find a flashlight with working batteries, Lapp returned to discover that Haberman was inside and trapped.
"By then, we couldn't hear any screams."
Unable to hear any sirens of approaching fire trucks, Lapp knew what he had to do.
"I wanted to go in from the beginning and my mom said 'you're not going.' Typical mom," he said. "When there wasn't screaming any more, it was life or death. There was no more thinking."
Just like Haberman before him, Lapp got lost in the smoke. He got down and crawled toward where he thought he had last heard the screams.
"I felt warmth and it was like a body. It was Gloria and Brian was right beside her."
Lapp wrapped his arm around Collins' chest and grabbed Haberman by the arm, leading the latter out behind him.
"How I found the window, I have no idea."
His mother and brother helped them back out through the window.
"As soon as I get out," Lapp said, making the sound of an explosion and spreading his fingers outward. The apartment complex was consumed in flames. Without his intervention, Collins and Haberman would be dead.
"Then I got up and walked into the street. Then I fell down on the [ground] and started crying like a little baby."
While Lapp was sobbing, firefighters finally arrived.
Collins and Haberman were hospitalized; Lapp was released after his right forearm was stitched up. The scars he suffered as a result of crawling through a window framed by jagged bits of broken glass are still faintly visible today.
And the media wanted to talk to him: newspaper reporters, television reporters. It was all too much for him. The day after he plunged into a burning building and saved two lives, Lapp cut his vacation short and flew home to his father and Hesperia.
"I didn't want them all in my face," he said. "I didn't want to think about it."
The Carnegie Hero Fund Commission receives hundreds of nominations from the United States and Canada each year. In 2008, they awarded only 92 medals. Twenty percent of recipients receive the award posthumously.
"We make as many awards as there are cases that meet the requirements," said Walter F. Rutkowski, the fund's executive director.
To keep the award meaningful -- and to weed out fakers hoping for a little of the cash originally set aside by Andrew Carnegie in 1904 -- the fund has a four-part test they use to vet the entries: Recipients must save the life of a human victim who is in imminent danger of loss of life without intervention, must risk their own lives to an "extraordinary degree," research must confirm the facts of the incident and the rescuer must not merely be performing his job.
At the moment, Lapp has only a certificate from the Carnegie Hero Foundation, and a modest cash award. An engraved bronze medallion with his name on it will be coming later this year.
Today, acquaintances who find out about what he's done tend to get excited about it, and want to hear the whole story, something Lapp resists.
"I didn't do it to be a hero. ... I did it because I felt I needed to do it," Lapp said. "It was so overwhelming, I've probably told this story three times in a year and a half. This is the third time."
Once upon a time, before that night in July 2007, Lapp had thought about becoming a firefighter, but today the Options for Youth senior intends to get a bachelor's degree in business or economics.
"Some people ask me if I'd do it again. I don't know. I don't know who's courageous or who's not. The point is that they got out of there."
Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.