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FDNY holds annual Medal Day at USTA in Flushing Meadows Corona Park

Jun. 14, 2023 By Bill Parry

Hours before the noxious smoke from Canadian wildfires poured into the city turning day into night on the afternoon of June 7, the FDNY had a brief respite from the hazardous haze in Queens.

Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh and FDNY Chief of Department John Hodgens presided over the annual Medal Day inside the enclosed Louis Armstrong Stadium at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

Photo courtesy of FDNY

Medals were presented to more than 70 FDNY firefighters, paramedics, EMTs and fire marshals for their life-saving work at incidents in 2022. Two new medals were presented this year — the William P. Moon II Medal of Life and the Captain Allison Russo North Star Medal. The first is named for Firefighter Billy Moon of Rescue 2, who was fatally injured during a training drill in December 2022 at his Brooklyn firehouse. The “real-life superhero” worked for 20 years at Ladder Company 133 in Jamaica at the start of his career. The medal was presented to his wife, Kristina, in honor of the five lives his donated organs saved, including two retired FDNY members, one who was a first responder on 9/11.

The second new medal was named in honor of EMS Captain Allison Russo, who was stabbed to death while on duty in an unprovoked attack in Astoria just over six miles away from the USTA in September 2022. The 24-year veteran was on her lunch break from EMS Station 49 when she was murdered in a random attack “that sent shockwaves” throughout the FDNY. In the chaos that followed, Captain Edgar Baez was the commanding officer of the Emergency Medical Dispatch in the Bronx who “helped untangle communications and determine what was needed,” as the FDNY attempted to save her life. Baez started out as an EMT with Russo and he received the inaugural medal named for her for his own outstanding leadership qualities.

Photo courtesy of FDNY

Among the Queens-based medal recipients, Capt. James Spencer, of Engine Company 275 in Jamaica, was honored for heroism after he crawled through a fire-ravaged apartment on 174th Street until he located an unconscious woman and carried her through the flames to safety.

Also honored were EMTs Thomas Langford and Michael Cavanagh of Station 47 on Beach 49th Street in Far Rockaway were traveling in their ambulance near Cross-Bay Bridge in Queens when they came upon a multi-vehicle collision and were able to free a woman who was trapped in a burning car. Lieutenant Don Schmidt of Ladder Company 117 on Astoria Boulevard was honored for his heroics during a December apartment fire in Astoria, where he made his way to a bedroom where he found a pair of semi-conscious, elderly victims — who turned out to be brothers — and rescued them.

Photo courtesy of FDNY

Another Queens-based medal recipient was Firefighter Kevin Travis of Engine Company 317 in St. Albans who entered a burning home in search of a quadriplegic woman in September. He made his way through heavy smoke conditions until he spotted the bottom of a wheelchair and proceeded to carry her through the burning building to safety. Kavanagh paid tribute to all of the recipients including the Manhattan firefighters who performed a daring rope rescue from the 21st floor of a burning highrise building last November.

“There are moments when our neighbors were in need when the FDNY showed up,” Kavanagh said. “Moments when families were trapped by flames and our members swung off a building to bring them to safety. Moments when patients were at their lowest point and in need of crucial care, and our EMTs and paramedics arrived at just the right time and administered the care they needed to survive.”

Mayor Eric Adams was unable to attend the medal ceremony because of the smoke emergency that engulfed the city, leaving his commissioner to share the stage with some of the department’s top brass, including Hodgens who sought a demotion from his position last February in solidarity with nearly a dozen chiefs. The 34-year FDNY veteran kept his focus on the heroes of the department and the members who were there to cheer them on.

“The men and women we recognize today represent the best of our department, exemplifying the core values of our dedicated workforce, courage, compassion, excellence and teamwork,” Hodgens said. “These medals remind us of the countless lives our members have touched all over our great city. Whether they are rushing into a burning building to save a life, administering life-saving medical care among chaos, or demonstrating exceptional leadership during times of great loss. The individuals have shown that the spirit of the service knows no bounds.”

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