Staten Island firefighter receives Presidential Medal of Valor for heroic ferry rescue

President Biden with Staten Island Firefighter Patrick Thornton
Firefighter Patrick Thornton receives the Medal of Valor from President Joe Biden on May 17, 2023.
Photo via Twitter/@UFANYC

One of Staten Island’s Bravest was at the White House last week to receive from President Joe Biden one of the nation’s highest honors: the Medal of Valor.

Firefighter Patrick Thornton received the honor for his daring efforts to rescue a victim who had fallen into the waters of Great Kills Harbor after a boat capsized in June 2021. Thornton was among a delegation of New York City first responders who received Medals of Valor at the May 17 event in our nation’s capitol, including the families of two police officers killed in the line of duty in Harlem last year.

Thornton was assigned to Ladder Company 108, but was working with Marine Company 8 on June 5, 2021 when a boat capsized in Great Kills Harbor, according to the Staten Island Advance

The 18-foot motorboat was located about two miles off the Staten Island coast when it began taking on water, as President Biden described in remarks at the medal ceremony. A giant wave sent a passenger overboard, and the crew of Marine Company 8 went in to rescue that individual as the boat sank.

But the boat then capsized and trapped a second individual under water — prompting Thornton to take extraordinary action, according to the president.

“Without hesitation, Firefighter Thornton removed his safety equipment and dove in. Imagine diving under a sinking boat weighing literally a ton, limited visibility,” Biden said. “But somehow, Patrick grabbed and swam him out from underneath that sinking boat and then up to the surface where his fellow firefighters pulled them to safety. That’s true heroism. That’s true heroism.”

In the official White House medal declaration, Thornton’s “courage and decisive action saved the man’s life and demonstrated a commitment to the highest traditions of public service.”

President Joe Biden presents the Medal of Valor, the nation’s highest honor for bravery by a public safety officer, to Detective Sumit Sulan of the New York City Police Dept, during an event in the East Room of the White House, Wednesday, May 17, 2023, in Washington, as Gabina Mora (Mother), right, accepting on behalf of Fallen Detective Wilbert Mora of the New York City Police Dept., and Dominique Rivera (Wife), accepting on behalf of Fallen Detective Jason Rivera of the New York City Police Dept., loos on. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Last Wednesday’s ceremony also included Biden presenting posthumous Medals of Valor to the families of Police Officers Wilbert Mora and Jason Rivera, who were gunned down in Harlem on Jan 21, 2022 while responding to a domestic incident. One of their colleagues from the 32nd Precinct, Police Officer Sumit Sulan, received a Medal of Valor for fatally shooting the gunman responsible.

Rivera, 22, had been a police officer for barely a year. Mora, 27, was in his fourth year on the job. All three were promoted to detective — the fallen officers posthumously and Sulan in a ceremony where he was given detective shield No. 332, a symbol of the three from the 32nd precinct where they worked in Manhattan.

Biden, who recently announced he’d seek reelection, has spoken of the need to reform how police interact with communities, in the wake of the killing of George Floyd and the deaths of other Black people at the hands of police. But he also says law enforcement needs better funding and tools in order to do a highly stressful job that’s only getting worse, particularly post-pandemic.

“I think one of the hardest jobs in America, what you signed up for,” the president said Wednesday as he presented the medals. “You represent the best of who we are as Americans.”

With AP reports