By Jonathan Phelps
---- — He said it was like a war zone.
But that didn’t stop off-duty Salem fire Capt. Dennis Levasseur from jumping to action during the Boston Marathon bombings. He wasn’t alone.
Yesterday, Levasseur was among two dozen firefighters from across the state awarded for their heroic efforts in assisting those injured after the attack. He received the State Fire Marshal’s Award during the 24th annual Firefighter of the Year Heroic Awards, in which Gov. Deval Patrick, Public Safety Secretary Andrea Cabral and Fire Marshal Stephen Coan presented more than 16 individual and group awards.
Levasseur was in the stands on April 15 to watch his fellow captain, Kevin Koen, run his first Boston Marathon. As soon as he saw the blasts, he went to see if he could help, while his wife assisted elderly people out of the stands.
“Dennis began to immediately help evacuate the viewing stands,” said fire Chief David Cody in a letter to the marshal’s office. “Even after the second bomb exploded, he moved barriers to open up access for ambulances and first responders. Not knowing if there were other devices planted, Dennis directed his wife away from the area and tended to the injured, assisting with patient care, triage and transport for many individuals.”
Cody said it doesn’t surprise him that Levasseur jumped to action while off duty.
“That is the kind of guy he is. The kind of firefighter he is. The kind of neighbor he is,” Cody said yesterday. “That is how he lives his life; he helps everyone else out.”
Cody said it was a “proud moment” to watch Levasseur and other firefighters receive the awards.
“We are proud to have Dennis as a leader in our department,” he wrote. “His unselfish actions that afternoon provided comfort and care to strangers and support for his fellow first responders and a testament to his character and dedication.”
Levasseur, 52, said he was honored to be nominated and receive the award and humbled by the other recipients and their accomplishments. He said he was simply doing his job.
“It is in every firefighter’s nature,” he said of jumping to action. “That is why they are on the job.”
With many of the awards involved the marathon tragedy, “It was kind of a somber mood,” Levasseur said.
He has run the marathon seven times and volunteered a number of times in the past. The bombing was one of worst events he has responded to, Levasseur said.
“I’ve been on the job for 26-plus years, and I’ve seen a lot, but that was the worst,” he said.
Eight Beverly firefighters were also honored for their work at the marathon finish line: Deputy Chief Peter O’Connor; Lts. Eric Fowler, Ryan W. Laracy, Matthew J. Kowalski and Donald B. Philpot; and firefighters Michael D. Halloran, Jonathan M. Palm and Scott A. Perkins.
“Beverly firefighters were engaged in volunteer work near the finish line. They assisted the injured and removed a security fence allowing access to the injured,” according to the fire marshal’s office.
“Everyone is very proud of them,” said Deputy Chief William Walsh. “While other people were running away, they ran toward the blast to render aid, knowing with their training, there could be a secondary device.”
Kowalski, a staff sergeant in the Army National Guard, was injured in Afghanistan, Walsh said.
Coan specifically made note of the response to the Boston Marathon bombings and the aftermath. Twenty-four individuals were given the award, alongside the entire Boston, Cambridge and Watertown departments.
“Firefighters across the commonwealth responded to the horrific casualties in Boston, Cambridge and Watertown, instinctively using their training to save lives,” he said. “A firefighter never turns away. It is their very nature to run into the fray and help whenever they can.”
Staff writer Jonathan Phelps can be reached at 978-338-2527 or by email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at JPhelps_SN.