Awards honor city fire heroes Medals Day to recognize Fire Department stars


In June, firefighter Ronald Hudgins Jr. dived through the smashed-open window of a charred city rowhouse to grab a colleague falling through a collapsed second floor and held onto the man as he dangled 15 feet in the air.

A month later, the same firefighter leaped into the dark, murky water of the Inner Harbor in an attempt to rescue a teen-ager who had fallen off a pier, hit his head on beams and was lying helplessly under a dozen feet of water.

The 28-year-old driver of Truck 1, based at the Oldtown station, is among 38 firefighters and paramedics to be honored Sunday at the Baltimore Fire Department's sixth annual Medals Day ceremony, recognizing workers whose heroic deeds might otherwise go unnoticed by the public.

Those earning meritorious conduct and exemplary performance awards include firefighters who pulled people from burning buildings and two who performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation on an infant in the back of a speeding police car.

But Hudgins, a firefighter for five years, is the only one who will receive two meritorious conduct awards -- the department's highest honor.

On June 5, after fighting an otherwise routine basement fire at 917 N. Parrish St., Lt. Mark Yant entered to search for burning embers. An unstable second floor collapsed. Hudgins, standing on a porch, saw Yant fall and dived through a window to grab him.

Yant hit a beam, which partially broke his fall, and Hudgins held on to his lieutenant until both could be pulled to safety.

A month later, July 16, Hudgins was sent to the Inner Harbor, near the Columbus Center, where a 16-year-old boy had fallen in the water. A night watchman had seen the boy fall in and pointed to the spot.

"I just jumped in immediately," Hudgins said, recounting his 8-foot dive off the pier. The water is 15 feet deep, and the pier is surrounded by discarded girders. Anything in the water is in danger of being sucked under Piers 5 and 6.

"I thought that once I went under, I would hit bottom. I didn't hit anything," Hudgins said.

Hudgins, gasping for air in the polluted water, surfaced, then tried again. "I was just about ready to kick up, then I hit mud," he said. "I was just about out of air. I did a quick sweep and I hit his leg. I grabbed him by the pants and brought him up."

The teen-ager, Timothy Nickens of the 900 block of E. Lombard St., had been under water too long. He died the next day at Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

A firefighter being honored with an exemplary service award is John Thomas of Engine Company 47 in Morrell Park, who raced into a burning house to search for a missing child before colleagues could start pouring water on the flames.

The fire in the 3000 block of Mardel Ave., near Morrell Park, occurred at 1: 45 a.m. Jan. 28, 1997.

In pitch darkness, Thomas rummaged through the smoky second floor, first going to a back bedroom. "Then I heard a cough," Thomas said. "I followed the sound and I found a child huddled behind a dresser."

Thomas, 35, who has been a member of the department three years, carried the frightened but uninjured boy outside as other firefighters were dousing the kitchen fire.

The awards will be presented at 2 p.m. in the War Memorial Building.

Pub Date: 5/01/98

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