Capt. Joseph Hawthorne, Shirley, Mass. Fire Department

When Hawthorne was the first to arrive at the scene of a four-unit apartment fire, just yards from his home, he knew he didn’t have much time to act.


While waiting for the ambulance, Hawthorne and the other responders used freshly fallen snow to pack on the woman’s burn before transport.

Hawthorne has no concept about how long the rescue took, or the length of time before the ambulance arrived, but he knows there was no time to spare.

“It worked out well,” Hawthorne said. “If I had done anything differently, or waited at all, I don’t know how it would have turned out.”

With the rescue complete and the woman on the way to the hospital, Hawthorne, who had received a burn on his hand, asked someone to go to the station and get his gear. He then turned his attention to fighting the fire that had been toned at 2:08 a.m., clearing the scene eight hours later.

Nobody went back in the building after Hawthorne had made the initial rescue, as the operations quickly went to a defensive mode. “The building was vacant at that point, and pretty well involved, so we fought the fire from the outside,” he said. He doesn’t know what caused the fire which had been under investigation by the fire marshal.

In the months since the fire, Hawthorne has heard the woman is doing well. She’s had many skin grafts, has had months of rehabilitation and, recently, her family got her a new apartment in a neighboring town. He’s met with the family, the woman’s mother and sister, at a fundraising event for the mom and her kids, but hasn’t yet met the woman he saved.

“I’m sure I will sooner or later,” Hawthorne said, not knowing how he or the woman will react. “…I know her mother and sister were very appreciative.”

Although he’s been recognized for his selfless act in his local community, the seasoned veteran firefighter doesn’t wear the label of hero very well, humbly deflecting the word.

“You have to save that term for the men and women in the military,” Hawthorne said. “They’re out there saving us every day.”