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Veteran Southold firefighter George Berry honored for his heroic effort to rescue his neighbor in April 2015 fatal blaze

Southold Fire Department ex-chief George Berry was presented with the Gold Medal of Valor and the Suffolk County Firemark Award for Heroic Services at ceremonies conducted Sunday by the Vocational Education and Extension Board of Suffolk County at Riverhead Fire Department.

Berry entered the burning home of his neighbor, Sydney Abbott, on April 15, 2015, in a valiant attempt to rescue the elderly woman, who he knew would be unable to get out on her own due to physical disabilities. See prior story.

Upon finding the door locked, Berry, 80, ran to his truck, grabbed a pry bar and broke into Abbott’s house. Wearing no protective gear, Berry — who knew Abbott would be sitting in her favorite chair in the living room — crawled on his stomach across the living room floor through intense heat and smoke.

Then “the roof flashed over,” continued Alan Groveman, who presented the award on behalf of the board of the Vocational Education and Extension Board. “The fireball ignited his hair and clothing and forced him to scramble out,” Groveman said.

“When firefighters arrived on scene, they found him leaning against a tree, gasping for air, his hair and clothing still smoking.”

Abbott, 77, perished in the blaze.

The Gold Medal of Valor is the highest award presented by the Vocational Education and Extension Board. Berry and the other honorees — recipients of the Silver and Bronze Medals of Valor, knew about the medals in advance of Sunday’s program at Riverhead Fire Department headquarters. But the announcement of the Suffolk County Firemark Award was a surprise and when Berry’s name was announced, the room erupted in applause and cheers.

Southold Fire Chief Peggy Killian and many other members of the Southold Fire Department were on hand to congratulate Berry, a veteran firefighter who previously served the department not only as chief but also as commissioner.

Berry was, characteristically, a man of few words at the ceremony.

“I’d just like to say thank you to everyone for this honor,” he said. “It was a hell of a day.”

Other Medal of Valor recipients Sunday were:

Silver Medal – Jack Italiano Jr., Cold Spring Harbor Fire Department; Kevin Peterson, St. James Fire Department.

Bronze Medal – Scott Davonski, East Quogue Fire Department; Norman Steven Beal, Kevin Burgess, Anthony Chiaramonte and William Renten Jr., Riverhead Fire Department.

Deputy Chief Daniel Sicilian and Deputy Chief Michael Bachek were presented with Instructor of the Year awards.

State Senator Ken LaValle, Legislator Bridget Fleming and Suffolk County Legislature Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory and Riverhead Town Councilman John Dunleavy attended the ceremonies to present the honorees with certificates and proclamations.

Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter and editor, an attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including a “writer of the year” award from the N.Y. Press Association in 2015. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.