As Firehouse Sees It: Honoring Those Who Saved Lives

Sept. 12, 2022
Peter Matthews pays tribute to the individuals and units that exhibited extreme bravery in 2021 and, thus, earned recognition from Firehouse Magazine for their valor.

“Real valor consists not in being insensible to danger; but in being prompt to confront and disarm it.”

Those words by Scottish author, poet and historian Walter Scott were published some 200 years ago in the novel “Peveril of the Peak.” They characterize the various acts that were taken by this year’s Firehouse Michael O. McNamee Award of Valor and Unit Citations Award recipients.

As it is every day and every year, all of you face the unknown each time that you roll out the door, and in 2021, firefighters continued to rise above when strangers or fellow firefighters were in peril. From reading the descriptions of each incident, you’ll see that the member’s training, understanding of the job, tools and situations, paired with determination, allowed the individual to handle daunting tasks, from rescuing a fire officer who was trapped by a roof collapse at a commercial building fire, to searching past the fire area without a charged hoseline in place, to entering the water to rescue drowning children or to rescue people who were trapped in a submerged vehicle.

Not only did this year’s honorees take decisive action during catastrophic collapses, but a few off-duty firefighters remind us that members never truly are off duty, when they sprang into action to effect rescues. One firefighter, who was nearby when a house fire was dispatched, entered a burning structure under punishing conditions without any PPE and before the rigs arrived, to successfully rescue an unconscious woman.   

In the Unit Citations category, a measure of fire and life safety outreach paid off. Three years after a Charlotte, NC, student went through a third-grade fire safety program, she found herself using what she learned from fire department educators as her apartment burned. She got herself and her little brother into a room away from the fire and called 9-1-1 for help. That started the life-safety chain that resulted in the rescue of both children.

It's a rarity to hear of such a success story, but the efforts of three fire and life-safety educators paid dividends years later. Everyone in a department has a role in life safety, and we are happy to share this story.

Please turn to page 28 to learn about all of this year’s award recipients. Congratulations to all of the winners.

You can nominate your members for actions that occurred in 2022 by visiting

New Look

As you turn the pages of the magazine this month, you might understand our excitement in sharing our new design. After connecting with readers, authors and advisory board members, our team set out to modernize the look and feel of the magazine. It’s no easy feat to have a magazine layout that appeals to each of you, but we hope that the design makes it easier to follow along with each column and article.

A Tip of the Helmet

Congratulations to our longtime The Fire Service PIO columnist, Timothy Szymanski, on his retirement from Las Vegas Fire & Rescue (LVFR). Syzmanski, who has written for Firehouse for more than two decades, has served his communities through the fire service for more than 50 years. Twenty-six of the years were in Vegas.

He started his fire service journey in Northfield, OH, in the 1970s, after a plane crashed near his house. In Northfield, he reached the rank of assistant fire chief, and it was in Northfield where he got his first taste of working with the media. His penchant for it never stopped. He later took the role as fire chief in Winder, GA, before being hired by the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department (AFRD).

In 1992, he was hired as the media liaison for the AFRD. The department sought out Szymanski ahead of the 1996 Olympics, to make sure that it could handle media relations. That decision paid off when a bomb detonated during the Olympics, killing one person and injuring dozens. Soon after, he was sought out by LVFR, where he updated the media daily on the efforts of the department of one of the nation’s highest profile cities.

The saying “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” never was the way for LVFR during Syzmanski’s tenure. He did a phenomenal job informing the taxpayers and visitors 24/7 of what was happening, and he elevated the department to among the very best in the country.

Best wishes on your retirement, Tim.

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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