‘Bronze Bar for Valor’ awarded to DC firefighter

Richard Cunningham, right, has been given an award for valor after helping injured colleague Sgt. Matthew Westerbeck, left. (WTOP/John Aaron)

A D.C. firefighter who came to the aid of an injured colleague — while continuing to fight a blaze — has been given an award for valor.

Sgt. Matthew Westerbeck’s jacket. (WTOP/John Aaron)

Sgt. Matthew Westerbeck was leading the crew from Southeast’s Engine Company 8 on a call for a car fire in September 2020, on M Street in Northeast.

At the scene, a gas can inside the car exploded, surrounding Westerbeck in flames.

Firefighter Technician Richard Cunningham was inside the fire engine at the time.

“I could feel the heat, from 100 feet away, through the windshield,” he said.

Fire and EMS Chief John Donnelly said Cunningham then stepped up.

“Cunningham came to the assistance of his injured officer, helping him to dress down and radioing for assistance, while at the same time manning the pump and securing additional water supply needed to battle the expanding blaze,” Donnelley said. “He also provided direction to the shaken crew.”

For his actions, Cunningham was given a Bronze Bar for Valor.

Westerbeck suffered second-degree burns to half of his head and spent 103 days recovering. He’s now back on duty.

Investigators later determined the burning SUV had been involved in a robbery in Prince George’s County, Maryland, and was left in D.C.

John Aaron

John Aaron is a news anchor and reporter for WTOP. After starting his professional broadcast career as an anchor and reporter for WGET and WGTY in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, he went on to spend several years in the world of sports media, working for Comcast SportsNet, MLB Network Radio, and WTOP.

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