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North Lenoir Fire & Rescue Firefighters Awarded Medal of Valor

RALEIGH, NC – Four members of North Lenoir Fire & Rescue were awarded the Medal of Valor by the North Carolina State Firefighter’s Association (NCSFA) for their actions at a deadly explosion in La Grange in June of 2022. The awards were presented at the 136th Annual Meeting and Banquet of the NCSFA in Raleigh on Saturday, August 12, 2023.

On Friday, June 10, 2022, North Lenoir Fire & Rescue responded to a deadly fire and explosion on Bulltown Road in La Grange, NC. Shortly before arrival, the Lenoir County 911 Center advised responding personnel that the structure contained fireworks.

Arriving firefighters found approximately 50 large bales of hay on fire next to a 40-foot shipping container and the property owner working to contain the fire. Fire department personnel exited their vehicles and began extinguishment operations.

Shortly after arrival, fireworks in the container detonated causing several injuries and damage to fire department apparatus. The farmer, who was next to the container helping move the hay bales with his tractor, was thrown approximately 35 feet to rest face down in the dirt.

NLFR Firefighter Ackery Harrelson, Assistant Chief Brandon Ward, Captain Billy Youssef, and Chief Brian Wade, with complete disregard for their own safety and not knowing if there was going to be a secondary explosion, rushed into the blast area to retrieve the farmer and several injured firefighters from La Grange Volunteer Fire Department. After moving the injured to a safe area, NLFR firefighters did all they could to provide patient care and comfort until EMS arrived. They then continued to operate in the hot zone for extinguishment of the fire.

Several fire trucks were damaged, three firefighters were injured, and tragically, one individual died.

For performing an act of heroism at extreme imminent personal risk under adverse conditions in the course of duty, Firefighter Ackery Harrelson, Fire Chief Brian Wade, Assistant Fire Chief Brandon Ward, and Captain Billy Youssef were presented with the Medal of Valor, the highest recognition a living member of the fire service can be awarded.

“We are extremely proud of the members of our department and all the individuals who responded to the scene that day,” said North Lenoir Fire & Rescue Chief Brian Wade. “This was a difficult incident, but our personnel continued to operate in a very dangerous environment despite the risks. These awards were unexpected, but we are honored to be recognized by the North Carolina State Firefighter’s Association. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the family of the deceased and everyone impacted by this tragic incident,” he said.