As Firehouse Sees It: Paying Tribute

Sept. 9, 2023
Peter Matthews' congratulation of the individuals and the units that exhibited exceptional bravery in 2022 also provides useful reminders for response to future incidents.

This continues to be one of my favorite issues each year: We award members of the fire service for their extraordinary acts of valor, bravery and dedication with the Michael O. McNamee Award of Valor. We also recognize those who committed to serving the community in nonsuppression activities that focused on safety and well-being with the Thomas Carr Community Service Award. This issue is our chance to honor those who went above and beyond while serving the community and shining the spotlight on agencies big and small.

Reading through this year’s nominations—which represent a small fraction of the actual rescues that were made in this country in 2022—I was reminded of the split-second decision-making skills that firefighters need to have the ability to process and act on. Over the years, I have interviewed a number of recipients, and they echoed each other in their remarks that teamwork and training were the keys to the actions that they took.

Although most nominees were involved in rescues that resulted in victims making full recoveries, sometimes a life was lost. However, the attempts to prevent that tragic outcome were calculated based on the situation, the level of experience that the member(s) had, and their understanding of fire dynamics, equipment limits and/or factors that were encountered in other scenarios. For many, it seems, these incidents were a once-in-a-lifetime event. Their muscle memory, filled with knowledge, skills and abilities, helped them to see through the blinding smoke to find the person(s) who was in need.

President Harry S. Truman convened the 1947 President’s Conference on Fire Prevention to slow the losses of life and property to fire. Earlier that same year, during his first economic report to the citizens of our great country, he wrote, “America was not built on fear. America was built on courage, on imagination and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand.” To take an editorial liberty, you can replace “America was” with “America’s Bravest were” and that illustrates the root of each nominee’s desire to save lives.

Over the past few years, several nominations involved water/ice rescues. Although many involved rivers, lakes and larger bodies of water, seemingly harmless retention ponds were the scene of a few incidents. Whether it was a rescue at a pond that holds stormwater or that provides a decorative addition to a newer neighborhood, these incidents serve as an important reminder that you must know your first-due district and the myriad hazards that are present. A pond that has an aerator and an associated intake opening presents hidden challenges for firefighters and those victims. A step to assess your preparedness is to see whether you have at least the basic equipment that’s required for water and ice rescues and the know-how to use it.

I congratulate all of the members who were nominated for this year’s awards and thank those who took the time to nominate them. It’s important to acknowledge the nominees’ work, and the ability to showcase their bravery and commitment to the citizens is a great honor for the team here at Firehouse. Thank you for upholding the strong tradition of bravery and selfless service to the citizens.

About the Author

Peter Matthews | Editor-in-Chief/Conference Director

Peter Matthews is the conference director and editor-in-chief of Firehouse. He has worked at Firehouse since 1999, serving in various roles on both Firehouse Magazine and staffs. He completed an internship with the Rochester, NY, Fire Department and served with fire departments in Rush, NY, and Laurel, MD, and was a lieutenant with the Glenwood Fire Company in Glenwood, NY. Matthews served as photographer for the St. Paul, MN, Fire Department.        

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