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A reluctant hero

MI instructor Greg Lawlor doesn’t look for recognition, even if he does deserve it

­By Darcy McRae

Greg Lawlor would never call himself a hero, even if that is the word others use to describe him.

Mr. Lawlor, a Safety and Firefighting instructor at the Marine Institute’s Offshore Safety and Survival Centre in Foxtrap since 2003, was recently named winner of a Medal of Bravery from the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, Governor General of Canada. Mr. Lawlor was awarded the medal because of his rescue efforts during a tragedy in Conception Bay South on December 31, 2006.

Mr. Lawlor is hesitant to speak directly about the incident because one of the young people involved in the accident died as a result of drowning. He speaks almost in a whisper when discussing details about that day, making it obvious he remembers the tragedy all too well. Mr. Lawlor responded to the incident as a member of the C.B.S. Fire Department and played a major role in rescuing two people.

“The medal is nice …. But I don’t want publicity about it. I’ll get the medal, say thank you and put it away in my closet,” said Mr. Lawlor. “As far as getting awards, that’s not what rescue is all about. It’s about helping somebody.”
Mr. Lawlors discomfort in talking about the accident is understandable. The young man who died was from the same hometown as Mr. Lawlor and as is the case in many small, tight-knit communities, the loss of one person is felt by everybody in the town.

Mr. Lawlor has been a firefighter with the C.B.S. Fire Department for more than 10 years and has seen his share of tragic events and devastating accidents. Although he is better prepared to face these circumstances now than when he first started a little over a decade ago, he admits dealing with the loss of human life never gets a whole lot easier.

“There are injuries and death sometimes … and that’s really hard,” said Mr. Lawlor. “I live in Conception Bay South and I grew up in Conception Bay South. I know a lot of the people and you don’t want to bring bad news to anyone.”
It is for this reason Mr. Lawlor does not wish to make a big deal of winning a Governor General’s Medal of Bravery. He said any rescue worker would feel the same way, whether they are a firefighter, a paramedic or a police officer.
“We respond to any and all calls, 24 hours a day,” Mr. Lawlor said. “Nobody is there for the recognition, including me. I’m there because I have an interest in rescue work. If I can help somebody, if I can save someone, make someone’s life liveable … that’s all I want.”

Mr. Lawlor has been involved in rescue work of some kind for most of his life. Before he became a firefighter, he was a lifeguard and a water safety instructor as a teenager. He says although you face tragedy and heartache in these jobs, there are also some rewards.

“The rewarding side is when you can save somebody, or see someone smile,” Mr. Lawlor said. “When you can get people the help they need right away, that’s rewarding. A tap on the shoulder from a co-worker, sometimes that’s all the reward you need.”

Mr. Lawlor has taken several rescue and safety training courses over the years, including high angle and confined space rescue at the Marine Institute in the early 1990’s. He said his training is what enables him to stay calm and composed in situations that create panic and distress.

“It prepares you to maintain your focus and composure. The skill of mental preparation keeps you focused and reminds you that you have a job to do. You do the best you can and save everyone you can save,” said Mr. Lawlor. “Is there chaos? No. It’s strange, but as a rescuer, I think you block out a lot of stuff and focus on the task and the people who need your help. I guess adrenaline kicks in. I’ve told people before that adrenaline is an amazing thing.”

Mr. Lawlor does his best to pass along the necessary skills of rescue work to his students at the Marine Institute’s Offshore Safety and Survival Centre. He teaches classes in fire rescue, high angle and confined space rescue, offshore firefighting and industrial firefighting and is happy he is helping to train the rescue and emergency workers of tomorrow.

“You take a lot of pride in knowing you’re helping to train people to deal with these tragedies,” Mr. Lawlor said.

Mr. Lawlor added his work as an instructor for MI, combined with his time at the C.B.S. Fire Department, helps him learn and grow as a rescue worker.
“With teaching, you’re always reading, always researching and learning,” Mr. Lawlor said. “With the fire department, you keep up your skills with industry experience. Both sides feed from each other.”