'For your unselfish act of valor'


Staff writer

Eighteen-year-old Federal Way High School junior Humberto Padilla, the student who threw his jacket over a teacher in flames after a chemistry demonstration went awry in January, received praise, applause and an award from the Federal Way School Board last week in honor of his courage and altruism.

The mishap — called an aberration by Federal Way Public Schools officials — occurred after science teacher Ingrid Lyden added methanol to a beaker containing mineral salts during a classroom demonstration. When the beaker exploded, flames reached the first row of students and set Lyden ablaze.

As some students ran for the door, Padilla stayed and threw his coat over Lyden when he saw flames engulf her arm, hair and shoulder.

“I only thought to help the teacher,” Padilla said.

The explosion sent the teacher and two students to hospitals for treatment of burns. Another student was hospitalized for an anxiety attack.

Padilla was not one of those injured.

Federal Way High principal Randy Kaczor read the plaque’s inscription as it was presented to Padilla at a School Board meeting March 23: “In appreciation for your unselfish act of valor during the classroom fire at Federal Way High School.”

Padilla’s parents, Humberto Padilla Sr. and Rosa Cervantes, silently watched as their son received the plaque.

“They are very happy with me,” the student said of his parents, who immigrated with him a year and seven months ago from the state of Jalisco, in western Mexico.

Kaczor, who rushed to the classroom just seconds after the explosions, recalls the event as surreal.

“It was just amazing how students in a pretty chaotic situation and Humberto had the presence of mind to know that the flames needed to be smothered,” Kaczor said.

While Lyden’s priority was saving her students, Padilla was thinking of saving his teacher.

“As Americans, I know we tend to rally around causes, and Humberto certainly fits in that profile,” Kaczor said.

Other students grabbed fire extinguishers and aimed them at the flames, he added.

Board member Ed Barney said Padilla’s qualities are the same he’s instilled in his own five children.

“I’ve been involved with a Scouting group for the last 20 years and I know there are kids who will do that. Instinctively they will come forward. And Humberto is one of those,” Barney said.

“I was surprised and pleased that a student would step up like that and help in a very tense situation,” board member Bob Millen said. “It’s nice to know there are students like that in the schools.”

Padilla says college is in his future after after he graduates from high school.

“I want to be something in life,” he said, although he’s not yet sure what.

And, he said, he still has that jacket.

Staff writer Elizabeth Ciepiela: 925-5565,

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