Wading through chest-deep waters -- and later using a surfboard and kayak -- FDNY Lt. Thomas Woods helped save more than 25 of his Belle Harbor, Queens, friends and neighbors as superstorm Sandy struck the waterfront Rockaways community.
Recognizing this, the department Wednesday presented him with a medal for his "courage, dedication, leadership and self-sacrifice" at the annual FDNY Medal Day ceremony.
Woods' medal was one of 45 awarded to the department's firefighters, emergency medical service officers and fire marshals, who all were lauded for their valor and bravery in saving the lives of New Yorkers by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano at the 69th Regiment Armory in Manhattan.
"I think Tommy is amazing. He was able to keep everybody calm and he had [his son] Brendan help him," Woods' wife Michele said. "The whole block was engulfed in flames. It got really bad. . . . That was the scariest."
Brendan Woods, 14, said: "We all worked together."
The father-and-son team, first using the surfboard, then a two-man kayak, made several trips to their street to look for neighbors stranded by the floodwaters or fires. They were able to rescue a neighbor who uses a wheelchair and an elderly couple.
Like everyone on his block, Woods lost his home -- the home he grew up in.
"My home, my street . . . it's gone," he said after the ceremony. He said his family will "absolutely" rebuild.
"I was born and raised there and it's a wonderful place to live," said Woods, who has another son, Thomas, 12. Woods and his neighbors are waiting for the city to approve reconstruction plans.
Firefighter Patrick Griffin of Ladder Company 32 in the Bronx, who lives in Oceanside, received a medal after he saved a mother and her toddler from a burning two-story apartment building. Fully engulfed in fire and smoke, visibility was almost zero. But Griffin was able to crawl past the fire into a rear bedroom, where he found the semiconscious woman clinging to her child. Griffin dragged both out.
"This feels great," he said after receiving his medal with his family beside him. "It is a privilege to share this with my family. They can see what really happens when I'm not home for dinners and bedtime."
EMT Thomas Staubitser of Station 4 in Manhattan and of East Hampton received a medal for quick thinking when he helped stop a disorientated man from driving through a crosswalk and into a busy park.
Staubitser, 23, now a probationary firefighter, chased after the car, which was going against traffic. He used a "center punch" tool to break through the car window and put the car into park.
"I wanted to be a firefighter for forever," Staubitser, smiling, said. "My dad was a firefighter and I just saw how much he loved it."