Published 11:55 pm EDT, Friday, April 4, 2014
WEST HAVEN >> It was a banquet hall full of dozens of firefighters who didn’t think they’d done anything unusual, all of whom believed they were just doing their jobs.
Many of them were being honored, however, for their heroism, their service and more than anything for the way they did their jobs in what in many cases were extraordinary situations — some small, medium, some huge.
They saved people from fires, accidents, when they were stuck on the ice, during storms, in one case when they were hanging from railroad power lines — and in another case after one of the most notorious bombings in recent history brought an abrupt end to last year’s Boston Marathon.
Several hundred people, including friends and relatives, packed the Woodwinds catering facility at the West Haven Italian-American Civic Association clubhouse on Chase Lane for the inaugural citywide Service Recognition & Awards Ceremony.
The event was organized by a committee headed by Lt. William Johnson IV and Firefighter Louis Faugno for the West Haven Professional Firefighters Local 1198.
The ceremony honored firefighters from West Haven’s three fire departments — the West Shore Fire Department, the West Haven Fire Department and the City of West Haven (Allingtown) Fire Department — as well as other members of the community who have supported them over the years.
It also honored Allingtown Fire Chief Peter Massaro for 36 years of service, Allingtown Capt. Marshall Sampietro for 35, and William Bruneau, Timothy Ferruci and Faugno of the WHFD for 33, 33, and 30 years of service, respectively.
The biggest award of the evening, the one Medal of Valor given, went to WHFD Firefighter Joshua Shroder for his actions while off duty last April 15 at the Boston Marathon, where after hearing the explosions he ended up as one of the firefighters saving the lives of several victims of the twin blasts.
“A lot of people might say that what I did was on account of there being a screw loose,” said Schroder, 30, as he accepted his award.
“Well, welcome to the club,” said his boss, WHFD Fire Chief James O’Brien, sitting a few feet away.
“I really appreciate everything that everybody had done,” Schroder, an Iraq War Army veteran, continued. “Thank you!”
Schroder also is a paramedic who was trained in demolitions and explosives while serving in the Army in Iraq.
He was honored for rushing toward danger and putting others before himself in the wake of the Boston bombings, tending to six or seven injured people, including 7-year-old Jane Richards, who lost her left leg in one of the bomb blasts, which killed her brother Martin and also injured her mother and father.
But there was plenty of valor to go around, as several of Schroder’s colleagues received awards for other, less celebrated situations.
WHFD Firefighters John Perry Jr. and Jonathan Drost received Medals of Merit for their actions rescuing a man hanging from railroad catenary power lines on March 17, 2011.
Allingtown Firefighter Christopher Hawes received one for saving a choking victim at Biagetti’s Restaurant while off duty on July 16, 2013.
WHFD Firefighter Michael Southworth received a Medal of Merit for his actions during an ice rescue on Lake Phipps on Jan. 13, 2014, while WHFD Firefighter Brian Elliott received a Distinguished Service Award for the same incident.
Sixteen Unit Citations were awarded to groups of firefighters from all three fire departments — in many cases working together on the same incidents — who participated in extraordinary situations ranging from the ice rescue to motor vehicle accidents to several major fires, Tropical Storm Irene and Hurricane Sandy.
Civilian Recognition Awards were presented to Grace Giaquinto for her contributions to the union’s annual Muscular Dystrophy Association fundraiser, Dominic Gianotti Jr. of Dive Bar, Robert Bruneau of Bruneau’s Garage and police Sgt. Walter Casey, president of West Haven Police Union Local 895.
While Schroder got the top award, Faugno unleashed the biggest surprise of the dinner when at the end of the evening, he dropped to one knee and proposed to Giaquinto.
She said yes.