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A salute for Cantara


Receives Firefighter of Year award



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Lt. Jason Cantara of the Southbridge Fire Department makes his way back to his seat to the applause of fellow firefighters Tuesday after receiving the Firefighter of the Year award from Gov. Deval L. Patrick at Bostonís historic Faneuil Hall. Shawn Kelley. (click for larger version)
December 22, 2010
BOSTON — True heroes are often modest about their brave deeds. For as someone once observed, a hero is no braver than an ordinary man, he's just brave five minutes longer.

The state's Office of Public Safety and Security took the time to salute four firefighters who took that extra five minutes — and saved lives.

Lt. Jason Cantara of the Southbridge Fire Department was among friends, family and supporters as he was awarded the Massachusetts Firefighter of the Year Tuesday, Dec. 21 at Faneuil Hall along with three other firefighters from across the commonwealth.

Gov. Deval Patrick, State Fire Marshall Stephan D. Coan and Undersecretary of Public Safety and Security Kurt N. Schwartz presented the awards — the 21st year the honor has been bestowed.

"This has been a great day for me and for my family," said Cantara. "I feel very rewarded and very humbled at the same time. I couldn't be happier. I am among other great firefighters that have done incredibly brave and heroic deeds. My family and my entire department have supported me greatly and I wish everyone a happy and safe holiday."

Jason was honored with the award for on his actions on Feb. 12, while he was on vacation with his family in Pasco County, Florida. He was driving on Route 75, when a U-Haul truck overturned in front of him, caught on fire and landed in a swamp. Jason was part of a group that selflessly went through the flames and deep water to save two of the three people who were in the truck.

Cantara wants it to be clearly known that he was not alone in the saving of those lives that day. Some passing motorists did stop to help, but he wants a large portion of the credit to go to his sister-in-law, Sheri Langlois.

"I want to make it known how much she helped that day," he said. "Sheri, who is an emergency room nurse, did a wonderful job that day and I don't want it to go untalked about. I'm extremely proud of her. She really took the lead once we got those people out of the car."

Southbridge Fire Chief Richard Ciesla underscored Cantara's modesty, as the chief first heard about Cantara's deeds through the Pasco County's Police Chief. Ciesla immediately nominated him for the Firefighter of the Year Award.

Ciesla, along with several other members of the fire department, were on hand at Faneuil Hall to celebrate with Cantara.

"This is as good as it gets," said Ciesla. "This has been a great day for our department. Lots of members of our department do heroic acts on a daily basis and Jason did something that was truly exceptional. It's great that he has been rewarded for it."

Captain Joseph R. Hawthorne, Jr. of the Shirley Fire Department, was awarded the Medal of Honor at the ceremony. When a vicious fire quickly began to engulf his neighbor's home, he quickly entered the house and made sure that her three daughters had made it out. Realizing that their mother was still inside, he went in a second time and carried her out. She suffered burns over 70 percent of her body and was hospitalized for weeks before making a full recovery. She and her daughters presented the award to Hawthorne. He and Gov. Patrick presented the three girls with Dalmatian stuffed animals.

Two Fitchburg firefighters — Lt. Roberto Alicea and Firefighter Todd Reese — were also honored for a search and rescue during a smoky fire in Leominster last year in which they saved the life of a 16-year-old boy and his two sisters. Fitchburg's department has now had 50 firefighters honored with the award.

Southbridge firefighters John Mathieu and Jonathan Parettie received the award in 2002. The two were transporting a woman to Massachusetts General Hospital when they witnessed a multi-vehicle crash on the Mass. Pike in Grafton. They were able to save one of the three involved in the crash.

"We were just in the right place at the right time," said Parettie, who was in Boston at the ceremony. "The Grafton Fire Chief was the one that recommended us for the award. The woman that we saved was the one that presented us with the award. There wasn't a dry eye in the house that day. It's a fairly similar ceremony from year to year, but they always manage to do a great job. We're all very proud of Jason."

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