150 Fla. first responders honored by county

Orange County's first medal-day ceremony was a chance for the fire department to acknowledge the bravery of first responders in front of the community

By Joe Mario Pedersen
Orlando Sentinel

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Jim Rieb is alive.

That's thanks to the quick actions of Orange County firefighter/paramedic Alex Berg, whom Rieb presented with a life-saving award during Orange County Fire Rescue's first medal-day ceremony Wednesday night at Full Sail Live.

The ceremony was a chance for the department to acknowledge the bravery of about 150 OCFR first responders in front of the community and their loved ones.

Rieb went into cardiac arrest four years ago while attending a University of Central Florida football game.

"Without him, I'd be gone. My cardiologist said less than 5 percent of people survive," Rieb said. "I would've awarded him a lot sooner, but they didn't have this award ceremony before."

Brian Shields of WFTV Channel 9 served as master of ceremonies for a crowd of well over 300 people.

The awards included dispatcher of the year, emergency medical technician of the year, paramedic of the year and firefighter of the year—which went to Amber Lugo.

OCFR's first lifetime achievement award was presented to Dr. George Ralls for his work as the former OCFR medical director, deputy county administrator and public safety director.

Other awards acknowledged community service by firefighter engineer and paramedic Stephen Kibler, as well as firefighter/EMT Steven Michel, who was honored for his volunteer work with the YMCA and the Walt Disney World Clubhouse of the Boys and Girls Club of Central Florida.

Fire Rescue also presented awards to the ambulance strike teams and search and rescue task forces that were deployed to North Carolina after Hurricane Florence in September as well as to the Panhandle after Hurricane Michael in October.

Berg was one of four people presented with a life-saving award.

One survivor shared her story of being rescued from underneath a tractor trailer.

"What I want to communicate to these men and women is that they're making life better for the community," Fire Chief Otto Drozd said.

"They don't always get to see that. Usually those rescued just go about their lives. But in this instance, they're coming back and saying, 'Thank you.' ... Thanking them personally makes a big impact to firefighters and motivates them to keep doing what they're doing."

Among the award presenters was Joe Donahay, whose son, Sean, was trapped in a submerged vehicle for 11 minutes on St. Patrick's Day earlier this year.

"Looking back, I'd prefer that the whole thing never happened, " Donahay said, reflecting on the day he almost lost his son. "But it's an actual miracle that they pulled off what they did... We're grateful."

Copyright 2018 Orlando Sentinel

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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