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Minnesota man honored for rescuing roommate from house fire

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A Minnesota man who rescued his college roommate from a house fire last year is one of 18 people to be honored with a Carnegie Medal for heroism.

Ryan Nelson, 22, who grew up in Lakeville, rescued Matthew Heisler from their burning home in Grand Forks, North Dakota on March 16, 2014. Heisler, 21, who was a childhood friend from Lakeville, died two days later.

The other 17 winners are from Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Ohio, Oregon, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Tennessee and Washington. You can read more about the awardees here.

The Carnegie Hero Awards are given to "civilians who risk their lives to an extraordinary degree saving or attempting to save the lives of others," according to the Carnegie Hero Commission.

Nelson's heroism

Nelson and Heisler were students at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks. They and two other students were living together in the rented house near campus.

Heisler was alone at home when the fire began. It started from food left cooking on the stove, and the blaze then spread through the kitchen, according to the Grand Forks fire department.

Nelson discovered the fire when he came home from work shortly after 2 a.m.

Heisler’s family described how Nelson risked his life to try to save their son in a journal entry on the Caringbridge website.

“Ryan could see the smoke in the windows and immediately ran to the back of the house where Matt’s room is and broke the window by throwing a brick. Ryan climbed inside but when he couldn’t find Matt on his bed he didn’t give up.

Ryan climbed back out the window and went back to the front door, forcing his way through heavy smoke on his hands and knees and searched for Matt until he found him.

Ryan carried Matt out of the house and when he realized there was no heart beat, he gave Matt CPR and mouth-to-mouth until he got his heart to start beating again.”

Heisler was taken to Hennepin County Medical Center for treatment of smoke inhalation, but he died a few days afterward.

Nelson was treated for smoke inhalation and fully recovered.

More about the Carnegie Hero awards

They're named for Andrew Carnegie, the Pittsburgh steel magnate and philanthropist who first began recognizing the heroism of ordinary people in 1904, according to the Associated Press.

A commission reviews stories of heroic acts performed by residents of the U.S. and Canada, and chooses recipients several times a year.

A Carnegie Hero receives a bronze medallion, and may also receive financial help in the form of one-time grants, scholarship aid, death benefits, and continuing assistance, depending on their circumstances, the commission notes.

The commission has given away more than $37 million to 9,775 awardees or their families since 1904.

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