MEXICO – Three Mexico firefighters who quickly donned breathing gear and ran into a burning apartment building in June 2008 to rescue a Rumford firefighter trapped on the third floor under a collapsed roof were each awarded national medals of valor at Tuesday night’s department meeting.

Capt. Ed Carey and Lt. Allan Chartier and Lt. Chris Bryant also received the George Downs Memorial Mexico Firefighter of the Year award from Chief Gary Wentzell.

Explaining the medals of valor prior to handing one to each man along with a citation bar, Wentzell said, “This is awarded to firefighters for performance above and beyond the call of duty at extreme personal risk and being instrumental in rescuing and saving another life.”

The medals are believed to be the first ever awarded to area firefighters, Wentzell said. Tuesday also marked the first time in Mexico’s 20-year Firefighter-of-the-Year history that three firefighters were bestowed the honor together. Normally, one firefighter is recognized.

Bryant, Carey and Chartier knew they were being named firefighters of the year but they weren’t told they’d also be getting national medals of honor, Wentzell said.

“It’s an honor, but we were just doing our job,” said Bryant, who is also a deputy chief with the Rumford Fire Department.

“It was exciting,” Chartier said about receiving the medal for valor.

“It was a surprise. I didn’t know anything about it,” said Carey, who is also a Rumford firefighter.

Like Bryant, Chartier downplayed their heroic actions.

“We were just doing what we do,” he said.

Carey said that others who helped in the rescue should also be recognized, not just them.

“There were all kinds of other people that helped. If it wasn’t for the other guys that got the window open or (firefighter Chris) Moretto doing the ‘Mayday!’ we wouldn’t have known about it and gotten him out,” Carey said.

Following a dinner and prior to the awards, Wentzell read a statement briefing the fire call and the men’s actions in saving one of their own.

At 1:01 a.m. on June 28, 2008, Wentzell said Mexico and Rumford fire departments were sent to a structure fire at 14 Holman Ave. in Mexico. They found the roof and third-floor of the three-story apartment building involved with fire and heavy smoke.

“Between 1:56 a.m. and 2:04 a.m., a ‘May Day’ call was heard. It was shortly determined there was a roof collapse and a firefighter, Bill Johnston, was trapped on the third floor. The attack mode quickly switched to a rescue mode and firefighters began ascending the stairs to the third-floor porch area.

“Although everyone played a part in this rescue in one form or another, three firefighters entered the interior of the third floor and located firefighter Johnston.

“Without hesitation, a large section of collapsed roof was removed from firefighter Johnston and these three firefighters were able to get him out to the window area to waiting firefighters. There is no doubt that because of these three firefighters’ quick actions, firefighter Johnston was able to be revived and is alive today,” Wentzell said.

Johnston, who was crushed in the roof collapse, was lifeless and not breathing when dug from the debris. He was carried down three flights of stairs and revived in a Med-Care ambulance before being taken to a Lewiston hospital.

After the department meeting and an auxiliary meeting ended Tuesday night, individual firefighters shook hands with and congratulated Bryant, Carey and Chartier.

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