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8/27/2013 6:00:00 AM
Golden Valley fire chief earns international heroism award
Golden Valley Fire Chief Thomas O’Donohue (second from left) is pictured with Motorola Solutions Corporate Vice President Kelly Kerwan, President of the International Association of Fire Chiefs Hank Clemmensen, and GVFD Assistant Fire Chief Ted Martin after receiving the 2013 International Benjamin Franklin Fire Service Award for Valor at the Fire Rescue International 2013 general session in Chicago on Aug. 16.
Golden Valley Fire Chief Thomas O’Donohue (second from left) is pictured with Motorola Solutions Corporate Vice President Kelly Kerwan, President of the International Association of Fire Chiefs Hank Clemmensen, and GVFD Assistant Fire Chief Ted Martin after receiving the 2013 International Benjamin Franklin Fire Service Award for Valor at the Fire Rescue International 2013 general session in Chicago on Aug. 16.
Butch Meriwether
Golden Valley Resident

GOLDEN VALLEY - Every prominent fire and emergency service leader from across North America and around the globe attending the Fire Rescue International 2013 general session in Chicago had their eyes affixed on only one person.

As Golden Valley Fire District Chief Thomas O'Donohue stepped onto the stage Aug. 16 to receive the 2013 International Benjamin Franklin Fire Service Award for Valor, the room of more than 3,000 attendees exploded in applause.

The Franklin Award for Valor, co-sponsored by the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) and Motorola Solutions, Inc., recognizes firefighters around the world for their expert training, leadership, heroic actions and safe practices, and is the highest honor bestowed by the IAFC.

This is the first time in the 44-year history of the IAFC that a fire chief received the award.

O'Donohue was the recipient of the 2013 award for his actions on Dec. 21, when he placed himself in harm's way to save the lives of two people in a burning home.

It was about 7:36 a.m. on a Friday when the call came into the GVFD from the 911 dispatch center for a structure fire at 5324 Destiny Way. O'Donohue ran out of the fire district administrative offices and saw smoke rising from a short distance away.

When O'Donohue arrived at the fire scene in his service vehicle about two minutes later, he called in a "fully involved structure fire with exposures." Exposures mean a propane tank could explode or a vehicle or other structures are near enough that they could also catch fire. As he began his walk around to size up the situation, he came upon civilian PaulBissonette and off-duty firefighter Steve Winn standing at the rear of the home.

As soon as he spoke to the civilian and the firefighter, he learned there were two people inside the burning home. "When I arrived, I thought the whole house was involved," the fire chief said. "People were yelling to me that there was someone in the house. I thought we were going to have to do a body recovery."

One of the civilians had entered the burning home through a window and was attempting to assist a 260-pound elderly woman through the window.

The fire chief, wearing his "turnouts," a firefighter's protective clothing, but without the self-contained breathing apparatus, entered the burning house by using a ladder that was leaning up against the chest-high window.

"I really didn't think of my safety," O'Donohue said. "I knew I had to get into the burning home and get those people out."

As soon as O'Donohue got inside the burning home, he saw civilian Robert Davies attempting to hold the woman up next to the window. The woman was having a very hard time standing and was also having a hard time breathing because of the smoke in the room.

O'Donohue broke the rest of the window glass so no one would get cut while exiting through the window.

"As we were attempting to get the woman out of the window, we could tell the fire was entering the room," the fire chief said. "The fire had breached the bedroom door and was beginning to creep along the walls and across the ceiling."

After two failed attempts, the fire chief was able to get the woman through the window with the help of Davies by squatting down and placing his shoulder against the elderly woman's lower extremities. When O'Donohue stood up, he was able to use his shoulder as leverage to get the nearly unconscious woman through the window and to safety.

As soon as O'Donohue knew the woman was safe, he turned his attention to Davies, who also appeared to be having a hard time trying to get out of the window. Davies had grabbed onto the window seal, and because he was having a hard breathing due to smoke inhalation, didn't seem to be able to crawl through the window.

O'Donohue grabbed Davies and was able to launch him through the window to safety.


Then it was the fire chief's turn to exit the burning structure. Just a second after the fire chief crawled out of the window, there was a fire flashover in the room and flames shot out the window. A flashover is the near-simultaneous ignition of most of the directly exposed combustible material in an enclosed area. It can cause the instantaneous death of anyone in the room.

Once to safety, the woman and Fire Chief O'Donohue were transported to the hospital for smoke inhalation. He said the woman was coherent and talking when she was loaded into the ambulance and Davies refused medical aid.

When asked if he had to do it over again, O'Donohue said, "It's our job to protect property and our residents' lives. We love serving our community."

According to O'Donohue, the GVFD firefighters continually train to handle any situation that may confront them, and that includes putting themselves in harm's way.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Saturday, September 7, 2013
Article comment by: Read January Minutes

Read the chief's report in the Jan.9,2013 minutes of the board meeting to find out that there were four rescuers who all should have been recognized.

Posted: Saturday, August 31, 2013
Article comment by: Home Free

This is a "get out of jail free" card for all of the GVFD firefighters. O'Donohue can hardly give you a reprimand for entering a burning building without your air tanks.

Posted: Friday, August 30, 2013
Article comment by: Dennis Mason

I am truely amased how PETTY some people can be! Janice McDowell, and anyone that knows her, really need to evaluate the venom that spews forth in her comments. People should evaluate her comments and determine how much value to give them.

As for the actions of Chief O'Donohue, great job chief. Entering a burning building without the protection of breathing apparatus to save someone's life is not "just doing his job". He went above and beyond and certainly deserves to be recognized for his unselfish actions. As for Ms. McDowell and her opinions, they are not even worth reading.

Posted: Thursday, August 29, 2013
Article comment by: My only super power is

I can make people, but it takes approx 9 months to complete.

Posted: Thursday, August 29, 2013
Article comment by: V Stokes

"Doing what your paid to do is not heroism."

"Is this not his job....?"

" A true leader would have shared the credit with all of the other rescuers."

So I guess all the 9/11 firefighters that were honored were just doing their jobs? I guess those that have received the MOH for their actions were just doing their job? any of you haters know what he said in his acceptance comments? And another BTW..the article (at least this one) did state how much the woman weighed.

Posted: Thursday, August 29, 2013
Article comment by: Butch Meriwether

I see how the various comments have been going and before anyone starts saying I’m the GVFD PR guru, I want to make it clear I write for the various media outlets, non-profit organizations, charities and not specifically for the Golden Valley Fire District.

I have occasionally covered stories for the county and also various newspapers when they have requested me to do so.

What I do for the GVFD is I am the volunteer photographer. When I take photos of fires and accidents, I turn those photos over to the GVFD and they normally do the media release. Yes, there have been occasions when GVFD officials are not available to complete the media release and I, as a free-lance photojournalist, do take upon myself to send out the information.

Last but not least, everything I do photographically and journalistically is done for free. I never charge for my services. Darn, I’ve even shot weddings and funerals for my friends. I guess that makes me diversified.

Posted: Thursday, August 29, 2013
Article comment by: Butch Meriwether

@ Janice McDowell – Fire Chief Thomas O’Donohue wasn’t even aware he was put in for the award or that he had been chosen it until just before he departed for the Fire Rescue International 2013 general session in Chicago. Chicago was the location where the award was given by the IAFC, its location wasn’t chosen by the fire chief and he didn’t tell 3,000 people to attend the general session.

You mentioned the fire chief resides in Butler and that’s incorrect because he lives in Golden Valley.

I also mention in my article that the woman weighed 260 pounds although you stated her weight wasn’t mentioned.

As for the two civilians, they were put in for the Carnegie Medal for heroism. Unfortunately neither of the two were among the thirteen 2013 recipients who where award the medal.

The fire chief continues to tell everyone publically and personally about the help of the others involved with the rescue of the woman from the burning home.

@ Jim Consalato – the GVFD board of directors are not handpicked by the fire chief, but are elected by the citizens of Golden Valley who are registered to vote and during the general election.

Posted: Thursday, August 29, 2013
Article comment by: Are You Kidding?

Janice McDowell: Still waiting to hear what you have ever done in your life that even comes close to what chief O'Donohue did. What gives you the right to criticize, not just the chief, but the ENTIRE PROFESSION that chose to honor him? What "special knowledge" do you have that makes you qualified to judge this group? What wonderful things have you accomplished in life that make you morally irreprehensible enough to pass judgment on the motives of others? The political/financial dealings of the respective fire districts aside, how is not this incident a cause for commendation? Please explain, because we are waiting with bated breath.....

Posted: Thursday, August 29, 2013
Article comment by: Jack Dundee

@ Janice McDowell, my,my.....You are quite the expert on GVFD. Just curious....when was the last GVFD board meeting you attended? And did you attend that meeting using the name Janice McDowell?

Posted: Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Article comment by: On Your Conscience

We just lost 19 brave firefighters during the Yarnell tragedy, and we have this clown travelling to Chicago all expenses paid to accept a very prestigious award for doing a job that public service men and women do daily (without seeking recognition). Chief should be casted In the next super hero film if he's capable of doing all of this single handedly!

Posted: Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Article comment by: Mr. Wikipedia

The hero syndrome is a phenomenon affecting people who seek heroism or recognition, usually by creating a desperate situation which they can resolve. The phenomenon has been noted to affect civil servants, such as firefighters, nurses, police officers, and security guards. However, acts of the hero syndrome have been linked to previously failed heroism. The hero syndrome may also be a more general yearning for self-worth.

A screening method has been developed, based on the case that those who commit the acts are looking for an opportunity to prove or flaunt their bravery. Some claim that those with the syndrome are "narcissists in a slump", pointing to people who have failed to achieve their dreams and ambitions, downtrodden by society's infatuation with fame.

Posted: Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Article comment by: Victim's Weight

It wasn't very nice to report the victim's weight in the story. Did O'Donohue weigh her before he lifted her?

Posted: Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Article comment by: Janice McDowell

I got such a chuckle over the people here who accuse myself and others of not "using" real names when they are clearly hiding behind a trumped up name. That shows that there is nothing but pure hypocrisy, but then there seems to be a whole lot of that that goes on within the GVFD and its governing board. People are upset because only the chief receives an award and nobody else. I suppose Disgusted with Liars wants their award in front of 3000 people also for their false accusations and for the fact he lives in Butler. Or maybe for the fact he has spoken to Pat Moore. Wow such big things for a little person wouldn't you say? Not once did I ever say I hated leadership, so learn to read. What I did say is that Chief O' Donohue is a glory hog. Just so Disgusted(chicken to reveal real name) knows, I know more about what goes on with GVFD than you will ever imagine unless you are GFVD writing under a fictitious name to conceal your true identity as administration or even a board member. Remember there will always be someone smarter than you out there.

Posted: Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Article comment by: True Leader

A true leader would have shared the credit with all of the other rescuers. I might be sick.

Posted: Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Article comment by: Janice McDowell

This is regarding the post by Awesome Awesome. First of all, if you are so proud of the chief for single handedly rescuing a person (even though there was another person), why do you not use your real name? I am sure Awesome Awesome is not it. Secondly, the article never said how much the woman weighed. Hummm makes us believe this is an inside post to add to the chief's already overinflated ego. If a person here is using made up names, then the posts can expect to be bogus.

Posted: Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Article comment by: Dean Wolslagel

Great job Chief !!! Golden Valley is a better place thanks to people like you !

Posted: Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Article comment by: Joseph Buhanan

Doing what your paid to do is not heroism.

Posted: Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Article comment by: Jim Consolato

I would have to agree with Janice McDowell. As I have watched the chief and his hand picked citizen board the more suspicious I have become. Every time I have heard the man talk its a big promotional commercial for the Fire Department but mostly himself. Saving a life is an admirable thing but as Janice said others are also heros and get little if any credit. Fire personnel have chosen a job where they may have to risk their life. Its their job. Doctors save people lives every day but I don't see any newpaper calling the doctors heros. I am smelling a rat in this some where and I do not like politics in something as basis as the Fire dept. This chief is currently under fire from many of those who attend the board meetings. All is not well.

Posted: Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Article comment by: Are You Kidding?

At Janice McDowell: Are you serious? This man risks his life, barely saves two "hefty" people by hoisting them out a window and gets himself out just before the place explodes - and you call him a glory hog because others in his profession choose to honor him? I don't care if that's his job or not, NO PROFESSION, including police or firefighting, mandates that you must put your own life on the line to save others. In fact, the training tells you to protect yourself first, care for others second. To do otherwise takes true heroism, and if you are so cynical you can't understand that, you need to see a shrink. Seriously! What have you done in your entire LIFETIME that even comes close to what this man did? You sicken me! YOU are what's wrong with this world!

Posted: Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Article comment by: Disgusted with Liars

janice mc dowell, a lying name & awesome awesome:

You two are sick! I'm glad I don't live in Golden Valley and have to live next to such evil people.

Here in Butler and Camelback area we have a solid group of firefighters and leaders. I know that board member Patti Lewis paid for a Fire Station to protect the people in her neighborhood, so I know what real heroes are all about. I talk to Pat Moore occasionally and know how well he has led our department. He gives high praise to the Chief out there in Golden Valley.

So all I can think about you two is that you hate real leadership and choose to lie about your names and the Chief. Are either of you that board member brooks who was asked to resign six months just into the job? Sounds like you are all wallowing in the same pig trough.

Read the story again, find out more of the facts. Or just admit you prefer that those two people would have died so you could blame the chief.

Posted: Tuesday, August 27, 2013
Article comment by: Awesome Awesome

He single handedly lifted a 260 pound woman, then "launched" another guy right out the window! It's what paramedics do. Way to go chief.

Posted: Tuesday, August 27, 2013
Article comment by: Janice McDowell

What I find suspicious about this whole thing is that Chief O' Donohue is a paid public servant. Is this not his job to save people as he so "graciously" states. How many fire personal and police nationwide save people? When was the last time they received awards in front of 3000 people. Could this just be another cry for publicity. What about Mr. Davies? Where is his award in front of 3000 people? He ACTUALLY went into the burning building first, way before the chief arrived. He is neither a fireman or a medic. He is the true hero. What makes me sick is that this act of heroism has turned into something blown way out of proportion with the recipient not rightfully deserving all the credit he is taking. Shame on you Chief O' Donohue and your assistant chief as well. Maybe the public would not be making this a laughing stock if all the parties involved got their proper awards and recognition as well. Lets not forget the off duty fireman and another civilian who were also there to help while awaiting to catch the woman on the other side. Glory hogs!!!!

Posted: Tuesday, August 27, 2013
Article comment by: V Stokes

Who could ask for anything more in a leader. Always lead from the front. "If he can do it, so can I!"

I hope he can hear my applause from Kingman.

Posted: Tuesday, August 27, 2013
Article comment by: a golden valley resident

i am proud to have this man serving the area i live in! ive heard negative things about him but i think this tops it all, thank you for all you do and keeping the community safe!

Posted: Tuesday, August 27, 2013
Article comment by: Al DiCicco

Great story and Congratulations! Very well-deserved. I am happy you are in Golden Valley.

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