CONCORD — For one afternoon, a group of police officers, teenagers, firefighters, a school principal and state trooper shared one title — hero.
Fifteen New Hampshire residents and first responders who put themselves in harm's way to save the lives of others were honored Wednesday during the 2013 Union Leader Hero Awards ceremony outside the State House in Concord. The program is sponsored by Citizens Bank and the New Hampshire Union Leader.
"These awards are a testament to the strength of character and spirit of community found in the Granite State," said Gov. Maggie Hassan. "Thank you for risking your lives to try to save someone else. Without hesitating to consider your own safety, each of you rushed into dangerous situations to help your fellow citizens. Your actions reflect the best of the human spirit, and serve as a shining example of the ability we all have to make a positive impact and change the lives of people we may not even know."
"This is not something that is given out lightly," said New Hampshire Union Leader Publisher and President Joseph W. McQuaid. "It is bestowed upon those of our fellow Granite Staters who have literally risked their own lives to attempt to save the life of another. As we have seen before and will see today, that sometimes ends in the ultimate sacrifice being made."
"I look forward to this event every year," said Joe Carelli, president of Citizens Bank New Hampshire. "It's all about citizens helping citizens. Through your unselfish acts of heroism, you've saved our neighbors and kept our communities strong."
New Hampshire State Trooper Scott Frye, honored along with Manchester firefighter Keith Knight for pulling a man from his burning SUV on Interstate 93 in Andover, Mass., said he was amazed by the stories of all the heroes honored at the event.
"We, as police officers and firefighters, we're almost expected to do it," said Frye. "In my circumstance, there was a burning car and I just happened to be there. But all these citizens that do all these great things with no training at all, I think are a little bit higher than us. It's an honor to me to be placed together with all these people."
Milford High graduates Molly Mendola and Andrew Myers, both certified lifeguards, were enjoying a 'Senior Skip Day' at Hampton Beach last year when they helped bring a man and woman caught in a rip current safely back to shore.
"It's such an honor to be recognized like this," said Mendola, who currently attends the University of Maine at Orono. "I never thought someone would make a big deal out of it, but I am so grateful for the award. I never thought twice about going in after them. I was just doing what I was trained to do."
"It's kind of surreal, but I'm honored to be here," said Myers. "I'm just glad everyone that day was OK."
"It didn't matter if you were an on-duty or off-duty public safety official," said Hassan. "Or a high school student leaving football practice, or one enjoying a day at the beach. You all answered to the higher calling of helping someone in their most dire time of need."
Berlin Sgt. Nathan Roy and patrol officer Matt Carter's split-second decision to enter a burning building likely saved the life of homeowner Cynthia Gagnon on Sept. 16, 2012.
Roy kicked in the door of the home and located Gagnon, and Carter carried her to safety.
"It's an honor to be here, but honestly it's something that a lot of people from every department would be willing to do," Carter said.
"We don't have the training that the fire guys have, but we knew whose house it was and that there was a good chance she was still inside when we got there," said Sgt. Roy. "We just did what we had to do to get her out."
Honored Wednesday with Union Leader Hero Awards were late Greenland Police Chief Michael Maloney, Greenland police officer Ted Hartmann, Stratham police officer Chuck Law, Manchester police officers Ben Foster and Dan Wood, trooper Frye, firefighter Knight, Gonic School Principal Gwen Rhodes. Berlin police Sgt. Carter and officer Roy, Manchester fire Lt. John Couture, Manchester residents Gino Otero and Jaqueal Holmes, and Milford residents Mendola and Myers.
Each of the honorees have been profiled in stories appearing in the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News over the last week.