ORLANDO, Fla. – An Orlando firefighter was presented with three awards on Friday after his heroics saved the life of a Seminole County deputy during a fiery crash.
In March, Orlando Fire Department Lt. Benjamin Wootson III was off duty and taking his son to a soccer game when he witnessed an SUV driven by Deputy Matthew Luxon slam into an overpass support and catch fire near Sanford. By the time Wootson had darted to the wreck, ammunition in the vehicle had begun to go off, but the firefighter still rescued Luxon and got him a safe distance away as the two waited for more help, watching the SUV become engulfed in flames.
“I think I made the agreement I’ll mow his yard for the rest of my life,” said Luxon, joking with Wootson when the pair reunited on Friday.
Wootson received three awards during a recognition ceremony at Fire Station 1 in downtown Orlando:
- The “Life Saving” award, presented by the Orlando Fire Department for actions taken to save the life of a fellow public safety officer.
- Another “Life Saving” award, presented by Seminole County Sheriff Dennis Lemma.
- The “Off Duty Hero” award, presented by Seminole County Fire Department Lt. Brad Dickey.
“Lt. Benjamin Watson III has served with the Orlando Fire Department since 2013, and so that’s only 10 years of experience but he performed like he was a 30-year veteran. He didn’t think about it, but he acted intuitively based off of his skills and his training and pretty much what you’re trained to do. You don’t think about it, but it just comes to you intuitively with your years of experience,” Orlando Fire Chief Charlie Salazar said before asking Wootson’s wife, Sarah, to stand. “When speaking to him and speaking to his wife, you know, every one of us comes to work each and every day and we risk our lives and so, you know, behind every good professional public safety individual, there’s always a support structure behind each and every one, whether that’s a spouse, a fiancé or family members, and we can’t do this job without your support, so I want to make sure that you understand how much we appreciate you for that.”
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Wootson said he hoped his story can inspire others.
“I definitely wanted to say thank you to my family for their constant support, as being a first responder, it generally adds stress to any family dynamic,” Wootson said. “Ultimately, I do want to thank God for giving Matt a second breath to live life. Because of him, Matt is still with us today. That is quite humbling, seeing the outreach support for doing what’s right, words can’t express my gratitude for that. If there are any takeaways from all of this, my hope is to inspire others to get involved, to do what’s right. Those challenging moments give us the opportunity to grow and to have a positively impactful meaning to other people’s lives.”
Presenting the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office’s award to Wootson, sheriff Lemma praised the firefighter’s demeanor.
“Knowing that he pulled Matt to safety, I called him just 30, 45 minutes after that, he was actually still on his way taking his son to soccer practice, and I told him how incredibly grateful that I was, our organization was and the citizens of Seminole County for him going clearly above and beyond the call of duty that morning, putting himself in harm’s way. And his response to me, I’m going to paraphrase the quote, ‘It’s simply what we do,’ with the highest level of humility, asking for nothing in return, just wanting to go on about his business,” Lemma said. “That is a true reflection of a hero.”
Wootson in May became the first firefighter to receive the “Back the Blue” award, given to him by Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody.
“It’s an honor in itself to be the first firefighter to receive this and ultimately it should be a testament of the Orlando Fire Department from the training that we all receive and how we act on and off duty,” Wootson said at the ceremony. “I want to thank my family for always supporting my daily shenanigans... and ultimately, I want to thank God for putting us in a position to where we were to inflict change on an individual’s life.”
See Friday’s ceremony again in the media player below:
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