WINTERPORT, Maine — Allyson Mitchell, 17, had no clue that the gathering Thursday night at the Victoria Grant Civic Center was in her honor until Nancy Ronco, president of the local American Legion Auxiliary unit, asked two officials from that organization to escort her to the front of the room.
She didn’t even catch on when Ronco, the auxiliary unit’s president, began talking about how the organization from time to time recognizes children and youth for extraordinary actions.
“They told me I was coming for a ‘thank you’ [event] for one of my coaches,” the Hampden Academy senior said when asked what ruse her parents had used to get her to attend the function while keeping it a surprise.
Otherwise, she would have been at a Hampden Academy swim team practice scheduled for that evening.
Instead, Mitchell was presented a national Youth Hero Award for the calm, cool manner in which she handled a garage fire in March 2010 at her family’s Cove Road home.
“I was shocked,” she said after the awards ceremony, attended by her parents, stepfather and all three of her siblings — Heath, now 9, 11-year-old Erin and Brigham, who is 14.
Mitchell, who is a member of her school’s Envirothon, softball and golf teams, joked that had she known she was being honored, she would have dressed up for the event.
During Thursday’s ceremony, she was presented a medallion and certificate as well as a letter of commendation from the auxiliary’s national headquarters. She also received a bouquet and an American flag.
Mitchell, who plans to to enlist in the Air Force and become an X-ray technician, was nominated for the award by members of the Winterport auxiliary unit and Department of Maine’s Children and Youth Committee.
In a news report published at that time, Mitchell’s quick thinking was credited with not only preventing the fire from a getting out of control but also with saving the lives of her sister, two brothers and her brother’s three preteen friends.
The fire happened on a day off from school when her brother’s friends accidentally ignited a small puddle of gasoline in the garage while experimenting with fire — despite a stern warning from the Mitchell children’s mother, Heather Mitchell-Relyea, to steer clear of flammables. Allyson was 15 at the time and baby-sitting while her mother was out for a few hours.
After her sister ran in to tell her there was a fire in the garage, Mitchell ran out to the garage and saw two fires burning, one inside the garage and one in a pit about 20 feet away from the building. She sent the boys to get a bucket of water.
Behind the flames in the garage, she spotted her youngest brother, Heath Mitchell, who was then 7 and paralyzed with fear. She grabbed his hand and pulled him to safety.
One of the older boys brought a bucket of water and Allyson splashed it over the outdoor fire, extinguishing the blaze.
The other fire was growing inside the garage. Allyson could see flames sprouting from a puddle of gasoline on the garage floor. She threw a bucket of water on those flames but that just spread gas everywhere.
The teen then called her mother and 911. Allyson also shut the garage door, which her mother believes helped contain the fire.
Mitchell-Relyea and the Winterport Fire Department arrived at about the same time.
The boys later told Allyson they had been dipping sticks in gasoline and lighting them on fire. One of those fiery sticks fell near a 5-gallon jug full of gasoline in the garage. A gas puddle near the jug caught fire, as did a nearby bag of trash. But although the heat from the fire melted the plastic container, it did not cause an explosion.
“It’s a miracle,” Mitchell-Relyea said Thursday night.