"We knew we had to help," Khadijah Hall said of the day she and fellow FDNY veteran EMT Shaun Alexander witnessed the shooting of an NYPD officer in Brooklyn.
Alexander and Hall were off duty sitting in Hall's car on Feb. 26, 2014, when they heard gunshots and saw a man fire his gun at the officer.
"We saw Officer Li go down," said Hall, who had an emergency kit in her car. They ran to help, not knowing if they would be struck in a crossfire of bullets.
"They saved my life. I was shot and in pain. They didn't drive away," NYPD Officer James Li, who was hit in both legs, said Wednesday of the pair.
Hall and Alexander were among 70 firefighters and emergency medical first responders honored Wednesday at the FDNY's annual Medal Day in Manhattan. This year's ceremony also commemorated the FDNY's 150th anniversary.
Surrounded by a column of red, white and blue flags and against the backdrop of the newly renovated City Hall, medal recipients were honored for staying true to the department's mission "to save lives. A commitment we have never wavered from and never will," said Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro, who called the FDNY the "the world's greatest fire department."
Mayor Bill de Blasio said the FDNY symbolizes "an unbroken tradition of bravery." Firefighters, he said, "have in common the courage to save others. Not all human beings are built that way. . . . This city honors them and believes in them."
Firefighter Donald Mayerhofer of Rockville Centre was recognized for saving an East Harlem man who survived a gas explosion that caused his apartment building and another to collapse in March 12, 2014, killing eight. Mayerhofer climbed over a pile of rubble with another firefighter and pulled the man out, bringing him to safety.
"Right now, I'm thinking about that day and how I am here with my family and the whole firehouse," said Mayerhofer, surrounded by his wife and three children. "It was a surreal day. It was not an everyday alarm."
His wife, Coreen, working in midtown, heard the sirens and called her husband. "I think I sent out 15 messages. It was pretty heart-wrenching," she said.
Firefighter Richard Miranda of Rescue Company 1 was also recognized for rescuing victims from the East Harlem gas explosion. Miranda and other firefighters searched for survivors while a gas-fueled fire burned beneath the debris.
"It was chaotic," said Miranda, of Islip. "Our No. 1 objective was to focus on the rear of the buildings." Miranda found a woman and pulled her from the pile, though she later died. "Right now I'm thinking about her," Miranda said.
FDNY paramedic Winsely J. Julien of Station 14 and EMT Kirvens Michel of the Haz-Tac Battalion received medals for transporting the city's first Ebola patient, Dr. Craig Spencer, to Bellevue Hospital Center in October 2014.
Soft-spoken Julien said: "We were not sure whether it was a real Ebola case. But we realized soon enough that it was, and we were ready and trained. We were prepared, and that made me feel safe and confident."