They acted when every second counted: 65 Boston firefighters, 3 civilians to receive hero awards

As people around the country were enjoying the last hours of Christmas Day, Boston firefighters were busy saving a life.

A 21-year-old woman was rushed into the Dorchester fire house where Engine 52 and Ladder 29 are based. She had been stabbed multiple times in the neck. The firefighters immediately applied pressure to the wounds and administered oxygen until Boston Emergency Medical Services could get her to a hospital.

The quick actions of those responders saved the woman’s life, and it is why they are among those being recognized at the 138th annual Boston Fire Department Ball and Awards Ceremony Thursday night at the Sheraton Hotel. The fire department will recognize 65 firefighters and three civilians who went above and beyond to serve the public good in 12 incidents in 2016, said Fire Department spokesman Steve MacDonald.


“In terms of awards, we’re a very conservative organization. We don’t just give them out for doing your job,” said MacDonald. “That’s why they mean so much to firefighters. They’re infrequent, but sometimes you just have to acknowledge that someone did something extraordinary.”

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Two of the civilians being honored are William O’Brien and John Greeley of the Boston Water and Sewer Commission, who helped firefighters responding to the tragic Oct. 21 trench collapse on Dartmouth Street.

“They were right in there working side by side with the firefighters,” said MacDonald.

Two Atlantic Drain Services workers were trapped when the trench they were working in collapsed. The two men were buried up to their waists in earth and a nearby waterline broke, flooding the trench. Other workers and firefighters, who arrived on the scene almost immediately, tried to find the trapped men, but had to pull back when it was determined that the sides of the trench were unstable.

Boston Water and Sewer personnel arrived and were able to shut down the line and cap the pipe. Neither O’Brien nor Greeley had either rescue training or protective gear, but both volunteered to go into the trench and block the pipe.


Both men also returned to the trench after the water had been drained to help recover the bodies of the victims.

Another firefighter to be recognized is Lieutenant David W. McCann. On Oct. 27, McCann was driving on Interstate 495 in Wareham when he saw a fast-moving car crash into a tree. McCann pulled over and got out to help the victim.

The crash had badly damaged the front of the car and smoke was coming from under the hood. McCann forced his way into the car, used a knife to cut the driver out of his seat, and pulled him onto the ground.

The victim stopped breathing and McCann began CPR compression to try and revive the man. He continued until other fire personnel and emergency medical services arrived, who determined that the victim had died. McCann was off duty and immediately rushed to the scene of the crash with little thought for his own safety.

Other firefighters who are being honored:


— Engine Company 20 for their role in helping deliver a baby in the middle of traffic.

— Engine Company 30, Ladder Company 25, Rescue Company 2, and District 12 for helping to free a man whose leg was trapped in a hydraulic mixer.

— Engine Company 10, Tower Ladder 3, and Rescue Company 1 for safely rescuing a suicidal woman from a ledge.

— Engine Company 10, Tower Ladder 3, and Rescue Company 1 for a separate incident in which they talked a suicidal man down from a ledge.

— District Fire Chief Thomas J. Blake for developing new, innovative training programs for the Fire Academy.

— Firefighters Leo P. Hughes and Dave Johnson for their role in running the Boston Fire Department & Veteran Fireman’s Association.

— Engine Company 24 for rescuing a resident from a home under intense and dangerous circumstances.

— Firefighters Joseph A. Lee and Justin M. Castellanos for their role in the Fuel Relief Fund, an organization that distributes free fuel to those affected by disasters.

— Lieutenant Edward J. Glasheen for lunging over a railing to catch a suicidal woman as she was about to jump.

Also being recognized is Norman Knight who founded The 100 Club of Massachusetts, a nonprofit that financially supports the spouses of first responders who die in the line of duty.

Andrew Grant can be reached at