Keene firefighters recognized for EMS work, valor during Cobblestone blaze

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Sep. 19—The Keene Fire Department's emergency medical service service earned a statewide award at a ceremony Sunday, where several firefighters also garnered individual honors and another unit was recognized for its efforts battling a five-alarm fire that destroyed a downtown building in January.

The department took home a handful of awards, including EMS Unit of the Year, at the N.H. Fire and EMS Committee of Merit ceremony at the Capitol Center for the Arts in Concord, Lt. Jeremy LaPlante said Monday. The traditionally annual event, which hadn't been held in two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, was hosted by the N.H. Fire Academy and EMS, an agency that trains and certifies first responders.

At the ceremony, Keene firefighter and paramedic Brad Keay, who has been with the department since 2016, was awarded EMS Provider of the Year. Both Keay and the department were recognized for overall excellence throughout the year, not necessarily for particular emergencies, LaPlante said.

Keene Fire Chief Donald Farquhar said the awards are decided through a nomination process months in advance. The department was required to fill out a nomination form that it sent to the Committee of Merit, which consists of first responders statewide, for consideration. The N.H. Fire Academy and EMS could not be reached for additional information Monday.

Keay, a former U.S. Marine who served in Fallujah, Iraq, said he attended the event with his family and that he's never before received this kind of recognition as a first responder. As part of his job, he said he always has to be on edge to be ready for the next emergency.

"It's kind of impossible to rest fully while waiting... [with] the anticipation and the amount of unknowns," he said Monday.

LaPlante added that the department was also commended for its response to the blaze at the former Cobblestone Ale House on Main Street. That fire caused roughly $1 million in damage and rendered the entire building, which included other businesses and apartments, a total loss.

For their efforts, 10 firefighters and a dispatcher were given a unit citation, LaPlante said. In addition, Lt. Aaron Cooper received a Class II Medal of Valor, while Lance Cleveland and Randy Beaton, both firefighters, each received a Class III Medal of Valor, according to a Facebook post from the Keene Firefighter's Union.

Keene Fire Chief Donald Farquhar said Cooper, who's been with the department since 2000, was honored for his role in taming the Cobblestone fire. He rescued a civilian from an apartment on the second floor of the burning building and went back inside to look for additional survivors. While inside, Cooper became disoriented and communicated a distress signal to the other firefighters. After he was found by Capt. James Pearsall, he recovered and was able to leave the building on his own.

"It's nice to be recognized," Cooper said, adding, though, that his colleagues would have acted the same as he did in that situation.

"If any one of the Keene firefighters had been assigned to search, they would have done the same thing," he said. "It's what we're expected to do and we have no problem doing it."

Cooper insisted that his colleagues who assisted in fending off the flames were just as worthy.

"I've experienced plenty of fires like that before," he said. "...The crew that was there that night was phenomenal. There were no questions that they would do a great job."

Farquhar said he was proud to see the department receive recognition.

"Keene Fire Department is an excellent department day in day out," he said. "We perform a high level of service, and this particular incident highlights what we do on daily basis."

Hunter Oberst can be reached at 355-8585, or hoberst@keenesentinel.com.