Firefighters and law enforcement officers receive Medal of Valor in White House today

Firefighter Peter Demontreux
Firefighter Peter Demontreux receives Medal of Valor from Vice President Joe Biden and Attorney General Eric Holder.

Today in the White House there was a ceremony honoring firefighters and law enforcement officers who put themselves in harms way to protect the public and their fellow officers. Vice President Joe Biden and Attorney General Eric Holder presented the Medal of Valor to 18 public safety officers for exhibiting exceptional courage. The Medal is the highest national award for valor by a public safety officer, and it is bestowed on those whose heroic actions were above and beyond the call of duty.

The Vice President, a former Chairperson of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus, made some very meaningful remarks, some of which appeared to be unscripted. Here are a few examples of what he said during his 12-minute talk, but it is more impressive when you watch it in the video below.

…And as many of these things that I do, I still grapple with what makes you do what you do? I’m just thankful that you do.

You can’t explain it, but you know it when you see it. I see it in the shield over someone’s heart. I see it in the men and women who are sitting here before us today…Thank God for you. You’re from different backgrounds, but you’re the glue that literally binds communities together at times of stress. You’re that face that shows up for a woman on the second floor of a burning building just when she thinks it’s all over for her… The amazing thing about all of you is that the very things you do when you’re on duty to save people’s lives, you do when you’re off duty. There’s no separation.

In addition, he said:

There’s something special about firefighters and cops……. You all share — you’re all crazy, God love you — you all share a selflessness that is not easily explained, a commitment to your fellow man that’s rare, bravery that inspires, literally inspires almost everyone that hears about it……. Being a firefighter or police officer is not what you do, it’s who you are….. There’s something about ya’ll. You can smell it when you’re 10, you’re 12, you’re 15. And God we’re lucky for it man. I marvel at what makes them tick. I marvel at what makes them tick.

Below is a video of the ceremony. Vice President Biden’s remarks begin at 9:34.

Below is an example of one of the Medal of Valor recipients today:

Firefighter Peter Demontreux, New York City Fire Department, New York

On August 30, 2010, Firefighter Peter Demontreux’s unit responded to a fire in a 4 story brownstone. On arrival they encountered heavy fire at the front door and up the stairway to the third floor preventing entry until a hoseline was put in place. Instead of waiting for a hoseline, Firefighter Demontreux climbed an aerial ladder to a third floor window. There he encountered a civilian who stated that his friend was still trapped inside the burning apartment. After assisting the civilian onto the ladder, Firefighter Demontreux immediately entered the apartment to conduct a search. He located the victim deep within the apartment.

In the ensuing minutes, Firefighter Demontreux executed one of the most remarkable rescues ever witnessed. As he assisted the victim through the apartment, the entire third floor suddenly exploded into flames setting both rescuer and victim ablaze. According to the on-scene Battalion Chief’s report, Firefighter Demontreux, now on fire, made the split second decision that he would not leave victim behind. After reaching the window, Firefighter Demontreux insured the victim was safely on the aerial ladder before diving out himself. Both men were extinguished by a hoseline and though badly burned- the civilian victim received burns over 50% of his body, both survived. Firefighter Demontreux’s protective equipment was subsequently tested and found to have been subjected to temperatures in excess of 1,000 degrees.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.