Sitting in his wheelchair, Antonio Pickens, a 12-year veteran of the Milton fire department calmly received a Medal of Valor for from Gov. Deval Patrick, using his uninjured left hand to shake hands.
Pickens was critically injured after he was hit by a drunk driver while on duty to help a car crash in 2007. Pickens suffered massive trauma to his body and head and has endured one and a half years of rigorous therapies.
Pickens was among two dozen South Shore firefighters from Hull, Milton, Rockland, and Stoughton were among the 107 heroes honored for their bravery Wednesday at the 19th annual Firefighter of the Year Awards ceremony.
Patrick attended the Faneuil Hall event to celebrate “the special act of heroism” of firefighters.
Patrick said their duty is honorable and great, and the memory of firefighters’ sacrifice endures.
Pickens said he felt very nice to get the unexpected honor in a phone interview after the ceremony.
Malcolm Larson, Pickens’ fellow firefighter who was with him when the accident happened said it is an example of firefighters facing dangerous situation even things seem to be routine like a motor vehicle accident.
“It’s a tremendous annual event to recognize the sacrifices and brave things the firefighters do every day in Massachusetts,” said Larson.
Hull’s Deputy Chief Christopher Russo and firefighter John King were awarded Individual Meritorious Conduct for saving five kayakers in September, 2007.
“On this particular day, we had a good outcome,” said Russo.
Russo said they could have had five casualties, but instead they got five rescues.
Sue Lena Thompson, one of the five saved, attended the ceremony.
“It’s quite moving,” said Thompson. “I love them.”
The Rockland and Stoughton departments received the Group Meritorious Conduct. Rockland was honored for pulling a woman from a propane gas tank explosion; Stoughton’s department received the award for saving a trapped victim under a slab of concrete.
“The guys had courage to go back in and search again,” said Rockland Deputy Fire Chief Bill Ferguson. “That’s basically why we were given the award.”
Captain Donald Jasmin from Stoughton Fire Department said the difficulty of the rescue added meaning to the honor.
“It’s a terrific feeling,” said “But it’s not just for me. It’s also about the entire group.”
This year’s Fire Marshal Award was given to James Shannon, president of National Fire Protection Association, a Quincy-based international nonprofit organization aims to reduce the worldwide burden of fire.
Shannon coordinated the work of the Coalition for Fire Save Cigarettes, which was instrumental in passing the Fire Safe Cigarette law in the Commonwealth and many other states.
State Fire Marshal Stephen Coan said smoking is the leading cause of fatal fires nationally as well as in Massachusetts, but soon more than 80 percent of Americans will be protected by similar legislation.
“This will have an impact on reducing the number of people who die in fires,” said Coan.