Riverhead Fire Department Lt. Justin Berry, Gold Medal of Valor recipient, surrounded by officers and commissioners of the department at the Sept. 27 ceremony. Photo: Quint Nigro

Riverhead Fire Department Lieutenant Justin Berry was awarded the Gold Medal of Valor last night during the Vocational Education and Extension Board of Suffolk County’s Medal Day ceremony at Riverhead Fire Department headquarters. 

Berry was honored for his life-saving actions in a Dec. 30 house fire in Riverhead.

That night, Berry was on the first engine to respond to a call on Doris Avenue. Upon arrival, firefighters learned that an elderly resident was trapped inside the burning home, and Berry quickly entered the structure through a window. Amid the smoke and chaos of the rapidly spreading fire, Berry brought the resident to safety, passing the 77-year-old resident out of a window to other first responders outside.

Although he should have been physically exhausted by his efforts, Berry worked the rest of the fire as well.

Despite extraordinary efforts made at exceptional risk, Berry was nonchalant. “It was a Riverhead save,” he said in an interview the day after the blaze. His humility was consistent while receiving his award; he accepted it graciously.

For his actions that night, Berry was also named firefighter of the year by the Firefighters Association of the State of New York at a ceremony in August. 

READ MORE: ‘It was a Riverhead save’: Brave firefighter who climbed through window of burning home to save trapped victim credits all first responders

Commack Fire Department Assistant Chief Christopher Ciaccio of the was also recognized at the event. Ciaccio, who was awarded the silver medal, sprung to action during a fire in April 2022, climbing through debris and dodging an impending “flashover” (wherein all flammable surfaces in an area simultaneously ignite) to quickly save two residents trapped in their burning home.

Captain Ryan Miller, Chief Kevin O’Brien Jr. and Firefighter John Shroeder II of the Sag Harbor Fire Department were awarded a bronze medal for their quick thinking and heroic actions in a March 3, 2022 fire. They performed quick work, deploying equipment, coordinating efficiently, and assuming personal risk to ensure the safety of two residents.

West Babylon Fire Department Third Assistant Chief John Manzi was also awarded a bronze medal for his response in a Nov. 24, 2022 structure fire, when another firefighter had a cardiac event while fighting the fire. Manzi removed the firefighter from the burning building, and performed CPR and rescue breathing on the firefighter, who eventually had to be defibrillated. The firefighter was transferred to a hospital and made a full recovery, in no small part because of Manzi’s actions.

First Assistant Chief Raymond Kolb, of the Terryville Fire Department received an honorable mention for his actions in a Feb. 18, 2022 fire, where he saved one resident inside a burning structure and helped another who was dangling from a second-story window.

Also recognized at the event were Deputy Chief Treavor Jones, for the Al Nemecek Instructor of the Year Award, Deputy Chief Harry Kenning III, for the Jack Gibson Instructor of the Year Award, Chief Bruce Smith for the Frank L. Obremski FRES Coordinator of the Year Award and Chief Thomas Kriklava for the Edward Tully, Jr. FRES Coordinator of the Year award.

Firefighter Justin Berry of the Riverhead Fire Department was awarded the Gold Medal for Valor at the Vocational Education and Extension Board of the County of Suffolk’s Medal Day ceremony at the Riverhead Fire Department’s Roanoke Avenue headquarters on Wednesday, September 27. From the left: Suffolk County Fire Academy Chief Dave Didio, Suffolk County Fire Academy Chief Larry Archer, Firefighter Berry, Suffolk County Fire Academy Chief Rudy Sunderman, and Suffolk County Fire Academy Chief Scott Davonski. Courtesy photo: Westhampton Beach Fire Department/John Neely

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Quint Nigro was born and raised in Riverhead, and is a 2023 graduate from College of the Atlantic. His background is in journalism and political science. When he isn't writing for work, he's writing for fun.