Thirty firefighters and three fire departments were recognized today for rushing to people’s aid during the Boston Marathon bombing and the shooting several days later of two police officers as the alleged bombers tried to flee the area.
The honors dominated the 16th annual “Firefighter of the Year” awards, which were handed out by Governor Deval Patrick and other dignitaries at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.
“It is in their blood to run toward disaster and bring stability to an emergency situation,” said State Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan. “Today was our day to honor those firefighters.”
The Boston, Cambridge, and Watertown fire departments were awarded for their “heroic on-duty responses to extraordinarily horrific events,” the state Department of Fire Services, which Coan heads, said in a statement.
Both on-duty and off-duty firefighters were recognized. All sprang into action when the two bombs exploded on April 15 near the finish line, killing three people and injuring more than 260 others. The awards also recognized those who responded when the alleged bombers tried to flee the area several days later and MIT police officer Sean Collier was killed and MBTA Transit Police Officer Richard Donohue was wounded.
Robert O’Donnell, a Stoughton fire captain and emergency room nurse, was off duty, waiting at the finish line to watch his son cross. Instead, he jumped over the barricades to apply tourniquets to victims.
An off-duty firefighter from Salem was watching the race from the bleachers. Captain Dennis Levasseur helped to clear spectators from the bombing scene and assisted first responders, the department said.
An off-duty firefighter and medic from Lynn, who was eating at Abe & Louie’s restaurant on Boylston Street, steered patrons to safety. Matthew Patterson also assisted victim Jane Richard, the little girl injured in the bombing.
An off-duty firefighter and EMT from Brockton, Donald Gazerro, who was watching the marathon at the finish line, helped treat victims.
Lieutenant Michael Ward from the Massport Fire Department assisted the injured near the site of the second explosion.
Cambridge fire lieutenant and medic Jeremy Walsh was dispatched to the finish line, where he assisted with triage. Later that week, he responded to the fatal shooting of Collier and also to the hunt for the bombers in Watertown, the department said.
Eight officers from the Beverly Fire Department were awarded for their work at the finish line. The firefighters removed sections of fence to assist the injured.
Fences were also ripped down by 10 members of the Cambridge Fire Department, who were recognized separately from the rest of their department. They were some of the first to respond to the scene, the department said.
Five Watertown firefighters were awarded for their response to the shootout there between the bombers and police on April 19, where they walked past improvised explosive devices to treat Donohue’s injuries.
Firefighters from 15 other departments were awarded for other heroic acts, including the rescue of multiple people trapped in fires, cutting apart a vehicle with an axe to save an injured woman, and rescuing a man trapped in cement.
“It was important to talk about what a firefighter is,” Coan said in a telephone interview. He said it was likely that any of the firefighters honored would say, “We were just doing our job.”