WASHINGTON -- Six Kansas City firefighters who braved a hail of gunfire last year to rescue a critically wounded paramedic received the nation's top public safety award Thursday.
Vice President Dick Cheney presented the Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor to Capts. Patrick Martin and Phillip Atwood; firefighters David Bradley, Marvin Donaldson and Stephen Johnson; and apparatus operator Sean McKarnin.
"We're on top of the world," Martin said just before the ceremony. "It's a great honor. It just blows me away."
Law enforcement officers from Florida, Georgia, Kentucky and Washington, D.C., also were honored at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, which is part of the White House complex.
The medal, Cheney said, was reserved for men and women who display exceptional courage, extraordinary decisiveness and presence of mind, and unusual swiftness of action, disregarding their own safety in order to protect others in action above and beyond the call of duty.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who also attended the ceremony, called the award winners incredible public safety officers who earned this mark of heroism.
Donaldson's father, who accompanied his son, told him exactly that.
"On the way up, I told him he was my hero," said Bishop Marvin Donaldson of the Greater Pentecostal Temple in Kansas City, Kan.
Gunfire greeted the younger Donaldson and the rest of the Kansas City Fire Department crew when they responded to a house explosion in south Kansas City on Feb. 23, 2004. Police and ambulance units had already arrived.
Two bullets struck paramedic Mary Seymour of the Metropolitan Ambulance Services Trust in the chest. She was on the ground and not moving. With little hesitation, the Fire Department crew raced to get her.
"There was no plan," Martin said. "There wasn't, 'This is what were going to do.' We didn't draw anything on the ground."
When it was over, emergency vehicles were riddled with bullets and two homes were burned to the ground. Police later found the skeletal remains of Donin Wright, the homeowner, who they believe set the blaze and fired on the emergency personnel, and those of his girlfriend, Janet Clark. Wright had been involved in a property code dispute with the city.
Seymour, who is fully recovered, was at the ceremony. She said she looked on with gratitude and pride.
"Since the shooting, we've all become very good friends," Seymour said. "They deserve this. They're firemen. They're not supposed to be rescuing people under gunfire."