President Biden recently presented 15 first responders who risked their lives on the job with the Medal of Valor — the nation’s highest honor given to public safety officers for their heroism and bravery.
“I know you don’t do this work for recognition, but you reflect the best part of who we are as Americans,” Biden said during the ceremony in the East Room of the White House. “These medals reflect the profound gratitude of our nation.”
Nine law enforcement officers and six firefighters were honored for acts of bravery that took place between 2019 and 2021. Two of the medal recipients had fallen in the line of duty: Jared Lloyd, a NYC firefighter, who died rescuing residents from a nursing home fire last year, and Officer Jason Shuping of North Carolina, who was killed while responding to a carjacking in 2020. Fellow officers Kyle Baker, Paul Stackenwalt and Kaleb Robinson were honored along with Shuping for their courage during the gunfight with the suspect.
NYC firefighter Abraham Miller received the medal for entering a burning building to save a 5-year-old child. Pensacola, Florida, Police Officer Anthony Giorgio rescued swimmers from drowning in the ocean. And five other honorees were recognized for three separate heroic water rescues in freezing conditions: Ohio firefighter Ryan Sprunger, Ohio Deputy Sheriff Dalton Rushing, and Connecticut firefighters John Colandro, Michael Rosero and Chad Titus.
Other recipients included three California Highway Patrol officers who nearly died in a shootout with a violent assailant. Officers Ryan Smith, Vincent Mendoza and Robert Paul III received medals for their brave actions during the gunfight with the suspect who had shot and killed their colleague during a traffic stop. The three officers protected each other even after receiving multiple gunshot wounds.
According to Biden, the Medal of Valor is designated “for action above and beyond the call of duty; and exhibiting exceptional courage, extraordinary decisiveness and presence of mind, or unusual swiftness [in] action, regardless of his or her personal safety, in an attempt to save or protect human life.”
During the ceremony, the president also paid special tribute to Aaron Salter, the retired Buffalo police officer who had died two days earlier while working as a security guard for the Tops Friendly Market that was targeted by a mass shooter. Salter was killed while exchanging fire with the gunman.
“No one understands more than all of you here today the pain and anguish those families in Buffalo feel. When it happens, at least in my experience, you feel like you’re pulled into a black hole inside your chest. And everything, everything, you can’t, it’s hard,” Biden said.
Attorney General Merrick Garland attended the ceremony as well.
“The public safety officers we honor today are true heroes. They put themselves in danger to protect their communities and fellow officers,” he said before introducing the president.
Biden also acknowledged the families and spouses of the fallen officers, and thanked them for their sacrifice.
“We pay tribute to all the law enforcement officers and their families who understand what it takes, what’s at risk to save and protect all of us…So today, from the bottom of our hearts, we thank you, the spouses, the children of the public safety officers. And I really mean it,” he said.
The ceremony was the first to take place in three years after the last two ceremonies were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.