BUCKHANNON – The Buckhannon Fire Department recently earned a prestigious national honor – the Michael O. McNamee Award of Valor – at the 2023 Firehouse Expo.
This award is named after retired Worcester, Massachusetts Fire Department District Chief Mike McNamee, who displayed great courage at the Worcester Cold Storage Warehouse Fire in December 1999.
To save first responder lives, McNamee made the bold and unconventional decision to stop additional Worcester firefighters from entering the building when there already were six lost inside, according to Firehouse.com, a media outlet and professional organization for firefighters.
Firehouse says the Michael O. McNamee Award of Valor “recognizes acts of courage and bravery, including both physical acts to rescue a victim in hazardous conditions as well as critical decisions or preventative actions that ensured civilian or firefighter safety.”
The events that led to the Buckhannon Fire Department winning this award unfolded during the early hours of Nov. 27, 2022, at 172 Pocahontas Street, when a combined effort enabled firefighters to save the life of local resident, Selena Lamb, who was trapped inside the house during a devastating structure fire.
The department was awarded the accolade in person during the annual Firehouse Expo Sept. 27-29 in Columbus, Ohio, but was recognized by Buckhannon City Council at its Oct. 19 meeting. Fire Chief J.B. Kimble showed three photos on screen: the fully engulfed house that firefighters saw when they initially arrived on scene, a photo of a team of firefighters carrying out Lamb, and a more recent picture of Lamb recovering while enjoying spending some time with her grandchild.
“When you look at the picture of 172 Pocahontas Street on November 27th, it’s difficult to comprehend the perilous conditions these brave firefighters confronted,” Kimble said. “The fire engulfed the residence in a matter of minutes. The Buckhannon Fire Department received the initial call at 6:50 AM, which indicated a structure fire with entrapment.”
Kimble highlighted the critical role of the four firefighters who arrived on the first engine, emphasizing that anyone missing would have changed the outcome. The initial four on scene on that fire engine were Capt. Joey Baxa, Lt. John Brugnoli, Lt. Ethan Smith and Firefighter/Paramedic Maria Potter.
“Their unity and collective effort were the linchpin in rescuing the victim,” he said. (You can read a detailed account of the incident and rescue from the perspective of BFD Capt. Joey Baxa here.)
Kimble recognized the unwavering dedication and hard work of his team, describing the crucial role each team member played that morning. The fire chief also acknowledged the high training standards upheld by the department, “which played a pivotal role in the successful outcome,” he said.
“[Our] rigorous training regimen fosters a culture of unity and collaboration, ensuring that every member of the team operates cohesively,” the fire chief said. “Without this shared mindset and dedication to training, the positive outcome in this rescue operation would have been inconceivable.”
In addition to the firefighters on the first engine, Chief Kimble recognized the supporting members from other fire trucks that followed, including Capt. Brian Elmore, Captain Linn Baxa, Firefighter Justin Boggs, Firefighter/EMT Shane Jenkins, Firefighter First Class Steve Michaels, Firefighter Maggie Petitto and Firefighter Hunter Wilfong.
These individuals provided vital support during the operation, reinforcing the importance of teamwork during such critical moments, Kimble said. Kimble also acknowledged the other first responder units who provided vital backup, including the Adrian Fire Department, Elkins Fire Department, Warren District Fire Department, Washington District Fire Department, Weston Fire Department and Upshur County EMS.
Kimble said more live fire training is essential to the department’s mission.
“Our goal for the future is to continue to establish an atmosphere of very well-trained individuals that continue to meet high standards put forth by the organization,” Kimble said. “We look forward to completing the training facility with the support of city council because the opportunity to train in live fire scenarios helps improve outcomes like this.”
“Live fire training is where it’s at [so] we can continue to learn,” he continued. “We can’t learn to fight fires like that in fake smoke, so we got to move on; we’re working on our training facility, and that’s our goal.”
Capt. Joey Baxa showed council members the award, and Kimble thanked council for their support in establishing a training facility on Mud Lick Road.