Santa Monica Park Ranger Greg Marsh presents Elaine Tse with the Citizen Recognition Award during the Santa Monica Fire Department's promotional and special recognition ceremony on Thursday. (photo by Fabian Lewkowicz,

CITY HALL — When Elaine Tse and her toddler Boedhe were visiting Palisades Park in August of last year, they thought they would see a few sights, maybe grab something to eat at a restaurant Downtown. Tse never thought her trip would result in her saving a life.

But that’s what she did on the afternoon of Aug. 26. Tse was walking with her son in the park, on their way to check out Pacific Park’s famous Ferris wheel, when she saw several frantic people huddled around a child.

“I thought the child might have fallen down and they were comforting him, but when I got closer I saw one of the adults holding the child upside down by his ankles,” Tse said.

The child, 3-year-old Emilio Gonzales, was not breathing. His skin had turned blue and his mother was distraught, praying for a miracle. Tse said she didn’t hesitate. She sprang into action, grabbed the child, and using the CPR training she received at the Red Cross in her hometown of Camarillo, she turned Emilio over, checked his airway and then gave him a few back blows. She swiped his airway again with her finger and the boy began to cry.

A hard candy — described as an after-dinner mint — was found a few feet from Emilio, representatives with the Santa Monica Fire Department said. Apparently Emilio and his family were visiting from Mexico and had just eaten at a nearby restaurant.

Tse was recognized for her heroic actions Thursday by the SMFD during a promotion and recognition ceremony in the City Council Chambers. City Manager Rod Gould was in attendance, along with SMFD Chief Scott Ferguson, Police Chief Tim Jackman and several members of the fire and police departments, along with their families. Tse was the first recipient of the SMFD’s Citizen Recognition Award, fire officials said. A handful of fire fighters also received promotions.

“Because of Elaine’s swift action, Emilio didn’t need additional care,” said Fire Capt. Jeff Furrows. “You truly made a difference.”

Tse said she was just doing what she thought was right and what her parents taught her to do, which was to help those in need.

But not everyone is like Tse, fire officials said, citing a study by the American Red Cross which showed that only 15 percent of those who were interviewed would step in and help someone in a critical condition.

“It takes an extraordinary person to step up and give aid to a stranger,” Furrows said.

Lead Park Ranger Greg Marsh was the first to respond the day Tse stepped up. He praised Tse for her quick response, which he believes most likely saved Emilio.

“When it comes to a child choking, time is off the essence,” said Marsh, who worked as a 911 dispatcher for Santa Monica before becoming a park ranger. “Seconds count. Imagine holding your breath for one minute, two minutes or three as people are running to get help.”

Tse received a shiny gold medallion with the fire department’s logo and a description of her good deed etched on the back. As she left City Hall Thursday with her son by her side, Tse said she was humbled to be recognized by the people who risk their lives to help others.

“I’m in awe of you and am honored to be a part of this,” she said.

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