LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - "We were enjoying a day out on the lake with family and friends."
Battalion Chief Lee Hayden was awarded the Firefighter’s Cross at their annual banquet. (Photo: Lexington Fire Dept.)
Lexington Battalion Chief Lee Hayden was at Cave Run Lake a couple summers ago enjoying one of his favorite recreational activities.
"I've loved the water since I was a young lad, from growing up at the pools during the summer to being on swim teams," Hayden says.
His swimming abilities helped save a life on this day, as his friend Damon Burton was riding an inner tube being pulled behind a boat. He eventually fell off and the impact knocked his life jacket off. His swim trunks were pushed down to his ankles, which prevented him from swimming.
Hayden says he knew he had to do something to save his friend.
"On my way out I grabbed the rope to the tube so I could use that because he’s a grown man, and I knew it was going to be a struggle," explains Hayden, "Looking back, I did something I said I'd never do. I went in without my life jacket on."
Hayden was able to rescue Burton, who recently wrote a letter to the city describing his heroic act. Hayden, who has served 23 years with the Lexington fire department, downplayed the magnitude of what happened on that day on the lake. He says it is just a part of his civic duty.
"Our job is a selfless job. We don't look for the accolades," says Hayden, "I hope it brings light to what we do as a profession, putting our life on the line not just on duty but off duty."
Both were hospitalized following the rescue. Burton stayed overnight, while Hayden was diagnosed with aspirating pneumonia.
Hayden was awarded the Firefighter's Cross at the department's annual banquet, which is the second highest award for bravery a Lexington firefighter can receive.