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Homegrown Heroes Awarded State's Highest Honor

Newport firefighters are among 26 Rhode Islanders who will be honored at the State House for saving a life this year.

The word "hero" is thrown around quite a lot — referring to sports stars, role model teachers, even transcendent entertainers — and all may be deserving of the title in their own way. But true heroism is reserved for those who put themselves on the line to save another.

Gov. Lincoln Chafee and Secretary of State Ralph Mollis are honoring those in the community who have shown such bravery and selfless sacrifice as they announce the 2013 Rhode Island Lifesaving Medal recipients.

Twenty-six Rhode Islanders are credited with saving seven lives this year, and will be presented with the state’s highest award for heroics during a State House ceremony Oct. 24. The Lifesaving Medal was created under state law to recognize the heroism of firefighters, police officers and civilians who save human life in Rhode Island.

“Because of the tremendous acts of bravery by Rhode Islanders, who demonstrated courage and selflessness, seven people are alive today,” Chafee said in a press release. “I commend these heroes. They are true role models, and their compassion and willingness to go above and beyond to assist those in dire need has made our state a better place.”

The 2013 recipients include:

Members of the Newport Fire Department - Captain (now retired) Thomas P. Welch, Firefighters Jared E. Leary, David K. Downes, Stephen E. Currey and Acting Lt. Richard F. Wheeler, as well as off-duty Pawtucket Fire Department Lt. David P. Reed all responded to a report of a 72-year-old man who collapsed in front of Emmanuel Episcopal Church on Dearborn Street.  When they arrived they found 2 bystanders administering CPR, one of them Reed.  Newport firefighters defibrillated (shocked) the man 3 times, until he was successfully revived. They treated him while he was transported to the hospital, and he survived.

Rhode Island State Trooper Andrew Carter and civilians Timothy Banks and Matthew Ferreira acted without concern for their own safety when they encountered a suicidal man on the Newport Pell Bridge in April. Carter responded to a report of a man who’d abandoned his bicycle on the bridge and was walking along the bridge railing. When Carter arrived, the man placed one leg over the bridge railing and he overheard him say, “I hate my life, I want to kill myself!” Carter ran toward him and secured his arms to prevent him from jumping. Passing motorists Banks and Ferreira saw what was happening, and helped Carter pull the man from the railing. 

East Providence Police Officer Ryan Vose, who saw a tearful teenaged boy, sitting on the other side of the suicide fence on the Potter Street overpass.  He was about to jump into traffic on Interstate 195 when Vose arrived. He stayed with the teen until he convinced him to climb back onto the safety of the bridge. 

Woonsocket Police Officers Linden Karsner, Scott Breguet, Jason Berthelette and Gabe Koneczny were all called to Phyllis Thomas Park on Diamond Hill Road for a report of a man trying to hang himself with a steel chain on a playground in front of a child, who was yelling, “No, don’t do it!”  It took all four officers to pull the man over the railing of an apparatus platform to safety, while the man violently resisted their help. Once on the ground, they were able to remove the chain from the man’s neck, restrain him, and get him the help he needed at an area hospital.  

Burrillville Police Dispatcher Glen Biddiscombe, Sgt. William Lacey, Lt. Dennis Leahey and Patrolman William Blais came in contact with a despondent 52-year-old man who parked his pickup truck about a quarter of a mile into the woods. Inside, the man had knives, pills, ammunition and shell casings, as well as a large fishing knife duct taped to his right hand. The suicidal man placed the tip of the blade against his chest and threatened to kill himself. Blais worked to calm the man down, and prevented him from moving forward with his plan to commit suicide. Leahey also engaged the man in conversation and helped convince the man to remove the knife from against his chest, and allowed Lieutenant Leahey to remove the tape from his right hand, and take the knife.

Central Falls Firefighter Daniel Petrin, Pawtucket Firefighters John Wallace, Jake Morgan, and civilians William Toth, Scott Ford, Nick Phillips, Nathaniel Phillips and Paul Fernandes all helped save the lives of two men who launched their canoe into the Blackstone River and encountered a swift current that overturned their canoe, sending the men into 50-degree water. They were swept down river, but managed to grab a safety cable just 40 yards from the waterfalls. An unknown citizen called 911 while the men yelled for help. As the men struggled to hold on to their lifeline in tumultuous water, the heroes carried and launched a rescue boat into the river. The boat, containing the three firefighters was secured to land by only one rope being held by other firefighters and civilians on shore. They managed to make it to the victims and pull them into the boat before the current sept them down the falls. With a combined effort of firefighters and civilians, the boat was pulled back to shore. 

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