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Ogdensburg honors former firefighter for late-night rescue

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OGDENSBURG — Retired fire captain Jefferson E. Thornton is on his way back to Afghanistan with some new hardware.

Mr. Thornton on Monday night was awarded the state Senate’s Liberty Medal, a mayoral proclamation and plaque from the city for rescuing Brandy Middlemiss and her children, Patrick, 3, and Lynzee, 5, from a Nov. 12 house fire.

“You leapt to quick action, and that made the difference,” said state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton. “All of us here in the community are proud of what you’ve done.”

Mr. Thornton, who works as a firefighter in Afghanistan, was in Ogdensburg for two weeks for the holiday, just time enough to make the rescue, Mayor William D. Nelson said.

“You were at the right place at the right time,” he said. “If you hadn’t come back from Afghanistan when you did, we would be in a whole different situation today.”

The Ogdensburg resident, sick with a cold and unable to sleep, walked outside his Adams Avenue home just after 3 a.m., only to see his neighbor’s house going up in smoke.

Mr. Thornton, who retired from the city fire department in 2008, played down his heroism.

“I’m just happy everything worked out well,” he said.

Amid the handshakes from local officials and the “well-dones” from Ogdensburg firefighters, Ms. Middlemiss and her children stood close to Mr. Thornton during the ceremony.

“I say this every time I talk about it, but I’m so grateful,” she said. “We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for him.”

The family was sleeping when the fire spread. It was Mr. Thornton who woke them and led them to safety.

Lynzee had even kinder words for her rescuer.

“You’re a hero,” she said. “I want another hug.”

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