Beverly Hills Supper Club fire crews honored decades later

SOUTHGATE, KY (FOX19) - A Northern Kentucky fire department was recognized on Friday for their efforts in battling the historic Beverly Hills Supper Club fire.

The Southgate Fire Department received the Medal of Valor, which is the highest award for a fire unit.

On May 28, 1977, nearly 2,000 people were saved but over 150 people died in the blaze.

"It was a war zone, just like a war zone," said Dick Riesenberg.

Riesenberg was the Southgate Fire Chief that night, and on Friday, he received a replica of the Medal of Valor.

"Every time I look at it, I'll see the fire. I'll see the guys going in and out," said Riesenberg.

In total, 522 firefighters fought the fire during a four-day, four-night stretch over Memorial Day weekend, with 54 of them from Southgate. Riesenberg says he enjoys being reunited with the men who risked their lives with him.

"The comradery of some of my old pals is just unbelievable. It's indescribable," he explained.

Jim Herman was a pump operator the night of the fire. He says as a 21-year-old, he just did what he was taught but is honored to receive this recognition.

"It means I did my job. I did my job honorably," said Herman.

Many other departments, firefighters and volunteers helped fight the fire, and the State Fire Marshal's Office finally recognized them for their bravery.

"Anyone who volunteered that night will tell you, nobody expected this, but the unit citation means more than any individual medal that I could ever receive," said Herman.

Riesenberg says he's wanted to lobby for this award for years, but held off because didn't want to be criticized by his peers.

"We don't do these things to get a medal or get a pat on the back. We just don't do that. Firemen don't do that, but I'm almost 74-years-old, and I wanted to get something for these guys before I croak," added Riesenberg.

The Southgate Fire Department helped rescue 96% of people at the club that night 36 years ago.

Chief Riesenberg says he's given over 100 speeches about that historic night to fire organizations throughout the nation.

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