AYER -- Just after 4 p.m. on March 23, a loud boom rang throughout town.
Within a minute, phone lines at the Fire Department became active with incoming calls from the dispatch center and residents.
Capt. Jeremy Januskiewicz and his crew -- Lt. John Bresnahan, firefighter Brenton Bourne, and firefighter Tyler Schwabe, who was off-duty but in the station studying for his EMT training -- suited up and raced to Advanced Vacuum Systems.
They entered the burning building, where they found a worker badly burned and tangled in debris. Though the crew rescued him, the employee later died.
For that effort, the four men were among 12 honored with the 2018 Firefighter of the Year Medal of Valor at Mechanics Hall in Worcester on Nov. 20. Gov. Charlie Baker recognized a total of 23 firefighters for distinguished service.
The building was still ablaze when Bourne drove Ladder 2 group to the 60 Fitchburg Road industrial building. "Firefighters entered the burning building and stretched a 200-foot hand-line through a door," according to written accounts.
"John (Bresnahan) was the one who actually spotted him," said Januskiewicz. "He sent for the basket and we got him out of there as soon as could. He was not conscious. There were several fires burning inside the building because several pieces of debris that burst from the exploding industrial vacuum furnace, were ablaze."
Using a Stokes basket-type stretcher, they pulled the worker to safety within 10 minutes of the alarm.
"They did a great job. They did everything they were trained to do," Fire Chief Robert Pedrazzi said. "They went in without hesitation and the operation went smoothly and quickly."
He said the four men are the first from Ayer to receive the award. He added that he has confidence that all 13 full-time firefighters and 25 volunteers would have done the same.
"We are honored to get the award," said Bresnahan. "But, of course we were hoping for a better outcome."