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Red Cross honors ordinary heroes for saving lives, giving back to their community

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — The Aroostook County chapter of the American Red Cross honored more than a dozen individuals and businesses for displaying courage amidst difficult situations, and for stepping up to aid their communities in times of need, during the chapter’s annual awards ceremony on Friday, May 17.

The Real Heroes Breakfast, one of four held around the state, proved to be the largest that the American Red Cross of Maine has hosted this year, with 325 people in attendance at the Stone Ridge Event Center in Presque Isle and 16 awards given. All award recipients were nominated by friends, family members or fellow community members

Among the awardees was Joe Theriault of Presque Isle, an employee of Star City IGA on Main Street. Theriault was shopping at the IGA on Sunday, Oct. 28, 2018, when a fire broke out at an apartment building next door. Theriault rushed to the nine-unit building and alerted residents, who were all unaware that a fire had started. He then called 911.

Thanks to Theriault’s quick actions, all residents of the apartments evacuated safely and the Presque Isle Fire Department arrived within minutes, saving the apartment unit and Star City IGA.

Although Theriault declined to speak during Friday’s ceremony, Star City IGA owner Josh Tweedie, who nominated Theriault for a Real Heroes award, said that Theriault is a “quiet and humble” person. He recalled his relief and gratefulness in knowing that Theriault’s actions saved the lives of many people that October day.

Tweedie noted that the fire was not the last time that he saw Theriault display heroism. Recently, he said, a store customer pulled her car a little too far out of the parking lot while waiting for a chance to enter the crowded Main Street. Another car struck and damaged her vehicle badly.

“I looked at the security footage later and saw that a couple people had stopped to see what was happening but went on their way,” Tweedie said. “But then I saw someone running out of the door to where the woman was, to make sure that she was okay. It was Joe.”

From Caribou, Kristi Herron received the Biomed Volunteer of the Year Award, for her service as the Cary Medical Center blood drive coordinator since 1990. She and Shelly and Hampton Jackson were named Real Heroes. The Jacksons, nominated by Lister-Knowlton VFW & Auxiliary Post 9389, came across a flipped car while driving after a wind storm. They called 911 and stayed with the driver until help arrived.

Other Real Hero awardees were Amy Bell of Limestone and Adriana McCarty of Fort Fairfield. Bell performed CPR after she found her husband Bill unresponsive, with no pulse, at their home and saved his life. McCarty was at the Northeastland Hotel with three other people in Presque Isle when a man collapsed. She took turns giving the man CPR until paramedics arrived, helping to save his life.

“I would hope that if one of my friends or loved ones was in trouble that someone would do the same for them,” McCarty said, while accepting her award.

Peter Blood of Houlton also received a Real Hero award and shared the story of how he saved an 8-year-old boy from drowning at a camp one recent winter day. Blood, who is 72, was standing outside near the icy pond when he heard a shout. He turned to see that the boy had slipped into the pond and was clinging to a rock, his head barely above the water’s surface.

Blood was able to grab both of the boy’s hands and pull him to the shore safely. He later learned that the boy had gone to the pond to wash his hands before dinner.

“I don’t know if it was adrenaline, God or my training as a Red Cross lifeguard that helped me pull him out,” Blood said. “I like to think it was all of the above.”

The ceremony also honored four children with Young Hero awards. Sixth-graders Landon Wotton and Parker Kowalski, both of Houlton, were at the local skate park when they noticed a man that had collapsed and called 911. Due to their actions the paramedics arrived and the man, who had suffered a heart attack, lived.

Nine-year-old Rebecca O’Leary of Mars Hill was nominated by her mother Jessica for her community service. Rebecca has donated to local food drives, purchased gifts for Toys For Tots and sold her skis to purchase for Recovery Aroostook, an addiction support center in Caribou.

Gage Theriault, 9, of Limestone was visiting his 73-year-old grandmother one day when a fire broke out in the oven. Theriault extinguished the fire on his own, called 911 and helped his grandmother, who was in a wheelchair, out of her home safely.

The Red Cross also gave awards in other special categories, such as the Community Impact Award to Rolande Gervais of Madawaska, the Veteran Impact Award to John Bouchard of Fort Kent, the Business of the Year Award to R.H. Foster, Inc. and the Arlene Doody Biomed Award to Houlton Regional Hospital and Janet Vose, health education supervisor at the hospital.

Mike Chasse of Presque Isle received the American Red Cross Sponsorship Award. Chasse moved 12 years ago from Salt Lake City, Utah to his hometown after being paralyzed from the neck down due to a ski accident. Today Chasse is the chairman of the Presque Isle City Council, and has been involved with many local organizations and event committees. He also helps his family operate Bike, Board and Ski on Main Street in Presque Isle.

Chasse noted that becoming involved in his community was the key change that helped him adjust to being a person with quadriplegia and his inability to participate in his favorite sports activities as he did before his accident.

“When I came back here the community of Aroostook County was what helped me get through everything,” Chasse said.

To close the ceremony, Mary Green, community manager for the Red Cross Aroostook County chapter, thanked all of the organization’s volunteers, local first responders and the Real Heroes for their contributions.

She also encouraged attendees to sponsor a smoke alarm as part of the Red Cross’s Sound the Alarm campaign. Red Cross volunteers already have installed 20,000 free smoke alarms at homes in Maine. In Aroostook County, volunteers have installed 394 alarms since July 2018.

“The Red Cross wouldn’t be able to do what we do without all of you and your support,” Green said.

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