The honor of being named EMS Provider of the Year yesterday was bittersweet.
The 16-year veteran earned the award for the courage he displayed Feb. 13 -- the day Lt. Brenda Cowan was fatally shot on Adams Lane. A third firefighter on the truck that day retired after being injured.
"I always thought that if I stood there, it would be by purpose and design," said Souder, nodding toward the stage for the awards ceremony at the Fire Training Center on Old Frankfort Pike.
But Souder and his Station 18 comrades -- Cowan and Jim Sandford -- unknowingly entered a dangerous situation.
"The purpose and design, the security of that scene, was hidden from us," Souder said yesterday.
On a seemingly quiet Friday afternoon in February, Souder, Cowan and Sandford left their rural station to answer a call for help at 8645 Adams Lane.
Just moments after their arrival, the trio was greeted by gunfire -- Cowan was shot and suffered fatal injuries, and Sandford lay bleeding from a gunshot wound to the head.
Souder and crew members from an ambulance coaxed Sandford to join them behind the pickup they were using for cover.
Sandford was taken away first, through a hole cut in the chain-link fence that separates the neighborhood from Interstate 75. Officers formed a cover with their bodies and riot shields, and Souder and two officers crawled as they dragged Cowan and Sandford on body boards to an ambulance.
Both times Souder as well as the officers placed themselves in the line of fire. That bravery is the reason the fire department's Awards and Review Commission selected Souder's nomination.
Not one to pat himself on the back, Souder downplayed his actions, noting it was a team effort and everyone stepped up in a volatile situation.
During the ceremony, Souder said he missed Cowan, who he called "Miss B," and said he's saddened that Sandford, who has since retired, won't be returning to Station 18, where Souder still works. The station now has a new lieutenant and paramedic.
In addition to Souder, members from both emergency response units -- Engine 18 and the ambulance EC2 -- were honored for their work on Feb. 13.
Fire Chief Bob Hendricks handed those awards to Jim Sandford, who was in the crowd, Jeff Godby, Brad Morris, Roger Smith and Maj. Lynn Gibson, who was the major in command.
Souder was shocked to receive both awards.
Over the years, Souder said he watched many firefighters, clad in their navy blue, Class-A Dress uniform, receive the small gold pin on their left lapel and the large framed award.
Donning his crisp blue uniform and standing on the stage where he watched for years as others received the honor, Souder said "Today I'm the recipient of this award, but it's difficult to accept in light of a funeral and a retirement."
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