TODAY   |  December 23, 2013

Holiday surprise for rescue worker who lost home

A rescue worker who survived a dramatic encounter during the Colorado floods but lost his home got a special surprise a group of local volunteers called The Mudslingers. NBC’s Craig Melvin reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> with our special series getting to the heart of christmas. we teamed with walmart to brighten the holiday season for special people . craig melvin is here with more.

>> good morning, guys. the devastating imagines from the colorado flood this september are among the most heart wrenching of the year but we want to bring you more imagines from the flood zone. an incredible group of people going above and beyond to help one of their own.

>> reporter: there are few things more peaceful than the moments after a fresh snow fall. john lived here for 25 years. it's moments like these he lives for but there's also moments he almost didn't live to see. september brought heavy rains to colorado. towns were flooded. roads washed away. landslides, homes destroyed. lives lost. it was a devastation many had never seen but john knew it too well. that's because john is a rescue worker. for 43 years he's been part of rescue teams around the country. some say it's remarkable how often this father of two has been at the right place at the right time.

>> it's whether you as an individual choose to get involved. and i just choose to get involved.

>> reporter: but what happened to john in the early morning hours of september 16th was not a choice he would have ever made.

>> you know, i prepared for emergencies of every scope for my entire life. i never could have pictured a landslide here.

>> reporter: that evening as the soaking rains continued, john went into his backyard to inspect the hillside behind his home and noticed water gathering.

>> i was trying to process what was happening. the ground started to rumble. before i turned around i knew what it was and saw a 20 foot deep wall of black. and you could see 80 foot long trees poking out of it and bolders the size of cars.

>> reporter: john was swept away in a giant landslide of debris through his home and down the mountain.

>> i was panicked. to meet your end and know it's coming.

>> reporter: the flood waters were below him, broken, battered and barely conscious. john remembered his police radio .

>> does anybody copy? my name is john. i live in left hand canyon . i'm on a tree in the river.

>> reporter: and one last barely radio audio recording .

>> this will be my last transition. will you tell my children i love them.

>> reporter: within moments his tree snapped but he survived. his home and belongings did not. buried under several feet of mud. john needed help. and then the help literally walked into his life.

>> i heard a racquet coming up the canyon. they were jovial. they were healthy people marching up the canyon.

>> reporter: the mud slingers are a group of volunteers organized through word of mouth with a singular task. bring help to whomever, where ever, and how ever.

>> we didn't know what we were doing at all. none of us do this for a living but i didn't stop to worry about the how. none of us did. we figured this out as we went.

>> reporter: they gave him something he never thought he would find again, hope.

>> on this way we wanted to give something back to the mud slingers too.

>> big hand first of all. and tis the season to recognize extraordinary groups doing extraordinary seasons.

>> we are giving you $10,000 in walmart gift cards to help you continue helping others.

>> wow.

>> reporter: but what john didn't know is we had a surprise for him too.

>> you're an amazing guy. you have spent the better part of your life doing the same thing as these guys so we wanted to help you get back into the business of helping others as well.

>> pull back the curtain.

>> with guidance from his beloved daughter kelsey, walmart put together much of what john lost.

>> i'm overwhelmed. this is amazing. i don't know how to say thank you.

>> you just said it.

>> yeah, but it's so much more than a thank you. these volunteers changed my life and they're volunteers and they risked their life to save me and i'll be thankful forever for you guys. thank you so very much. thank you.

>> pretty obvious he is an amazing guy but what's even more amazing is after we revealed the walmart surprises, he asked if it would be okay if he donated most of the items to folks in even greater need.

>> wow.

>> what a guy.

>> amazing.

>> and groups like the mud slingers, there's others like these woman standing rush into these disaster areas. they don't ask any questions. there just there to help. hats off to them.

>> on social media , they organize themselves on facebook and things like that. no badges. no uniforms.

>> amazing work.

>> a great holiday story. craig melvin, thank you for bringing it to us.

>> merry christmas .

>> merry christmas . coming up next,