116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Dan Mathis and Barry Nobles were heading back to Waukon to get a part for their job at A-OK Well Service early Feb. 10, 2020, when they saw a column of smoke rising from a downtown building.
“We were on our way back to the shop and we were a couple miles outside of town and we could see the smoke,” said Mathis, 32.
They followed the smoke and saw Gus & Tony's Pizza & Steak House in the 500 block of West Main Street in Waukon was fully ablaze.
Then they heard screaming. A woman who lived with her two children in an apartment above the restaurant was calling for help from a second-story window.
“It’s a real old building, so each floor is, like, 10 feet,” said Dan Liddiard, 50, who owns Lid’s Bar & Grill and West Side Auto Sales in Waukon. He also saw the fire and went to help. “It was 15 feet to the bottom of the window.”
Liddiard, who previously served as a volunteer firefighter, alerted people working in an adjoining building to get out and call 911. Then he went to help Mathis and Nobles, who had retrieved a ladder from their truck and were trying to rescue the family.
“She was pretty scared,” Liddiard said of the mom. “The whole downstairs was fully engulfed by then. She finally calmed down and told the kids she may have to throw them out the window to get them out, but they were not staying in the building.”
The telescoping ladder wasn’t working properly, so Nobles held the ladder open while Mathis scrambled up to get the older child, who was about five. Then Archie Jorgenson, an employee with CenturyLink, showed up with a longer ladder. They put that ladder in place and Mathis went up to get the woman and her toddler, who came down together.
Mathis went up one more time to get the family dog.
“Believe it or not, a dog does not want to be carried down a ladder,” Liddiard said.
Mathis said they didn’t have a conversation about who would go up the ladder during the rescue, which took less than 10 minutes. He is familiar with ladder work as a well technician. He didn’t know the woman he rescued from the fire, but later realized she is a cashier at the Fareway store where he shops.
“I didn’t know who she was before the incident, but I do now,” he said.
Liddiard, Mathis, Nobles and Jorgenson received the Governor’s Lifesaving Award on Dec. 16 at a ceremony in Des Moines. The men were four of 35 Iowans honored for courageous responses during incidents in 2020 and 2021. The list includes 22 civilians and 13 first responders.
“These Iowans intentionally and selflessly provided aid and assistance in times of need,” Department of Public Safety Commissioner Stephan Bayens said during the ceremony at the State Capitol. “It’s an honor to celebrate those who placed the needs of others above their own and answered the call to serve.”
Liddiard said it was inspiring to hear the stories about other Iowans recognized for lifesaving awards. These people rendered aid while shoveling snow, scuba diving and during crashes on Iowa roadways, according to descriptions of the incidents. In many cases, if they had not acted, another person would have died.
“It’s a great representation of our state and people who live here,” Liddiard said.
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