TOLEDO, OH (WTOL) - The 50th Annual Hero Awards Banquet presented by the Safety Council of Northwest Ohio was Thursday evening. It's a night where people are honored for helping others.
For one boxer who came close to dying in the ring, it's a night to reflect and thank those involved for saving his life.
July 22, 2016 was just another fight night for Michigan boxer Tommy Bagnasco. But that fight took a turn for the worse, leaving Bagnasco lying in the ring, fighting for his life.
That's when off-duty firefighters emerged from the crowd to help.
"We remember seeing the part of the fight where he got knocked down, and for whatever reason it caught our attention because things just didn't look quite right," said Brian Byrd, Toledo Fire Battalion Chief. "It's really hard when you're around a group of people who do what we do for them to not just gravitate towards whatever the problem is."
The seven off-duty firefighters, who went to St. Clements Hall to watch one of their own fight, realized later that they were there to be more than just spectators.
"You know we were there recreating, there to support Dre," Byrd said. "And you know, sometimes God puts you in places you don't realize why. That must've been why we were there."
While they were just doing what they do best, respond, it wasn't until Bagnasco was recovering in the hospital that they found out they saved more than just his life.
"When we met him a few days afterwards at the hospital. He told us about his daughter, We had no idea he had a young daughter so that made it feel good." Byrd said. "It just gives you perspective. Sometimes there's a lot bigger picture in your life than what you realize is going. You know, everybody just gets caught up in the moment of what's happening and they're not thinking about the big picture. For us, the big picture was having him there for his daughter. And we were just blessed enough to be there to help out."
So if it weren't for these "Good Samaritans", as the award states, Bagnasco wouldn't be here to say "thanks" nor see his daughter grow up.
"I'm happy to still be here, my daughter's the big thing for me," Bagnasco said. "The whole Aaron Hernandez thing happened yesterday, and all I could think about is his daughter not growing up with a dad. And that kind of hit me hard because that very easily could've been my daughter not having a dad."
In the days following that night, Tommy was able to say thanks to those who helped save his life, but he says if nothing happened before, on the year anniversary of that night, he was planning on going to the station and doing something for those seven men.
Thanks to his dad calling the city and working with the right people to get the firefighters the recognition they deserved, Bagnasco was able to thank them once again.
"When I got this message saying they were doing this, I knew I had to come down," he said. "I wish there was more I could do. I can only say 'thank you' so many times, and I mean it just doesn't seem to get it across how much this means to me because I have my daughter and she's like my world right now. My daughter and my wife are my whole life right now and I'm glad I'm still here for it."
For his wife Karin, she says those who brought Tommy home to her and their 11-month-old baby girl, she too can't thank them enough.
"Saying 'thank you' can never be enough," Karin said. "I think everything happens for a reason and it was just in God's hands that night. And it's a blessing that He was there, and the firefighters that were there that night, truly it's an honor that I have Tommy, my daughter has her dad because of them."
But it's not just the Bagnascos that are grateful to spend the evening next to those that mean so much to their family.
"I was sitting at the table with my sons and my wife and I'm pointing him out across the table and saying, 'That's the guy over there,'" Byrd said. "It was neat for my kids to actually see something tangible when it comes to what we do for a living because that doesn't happen very often. Most times you do what you do and you just go on about your way and nobody even says 'thank you', so this is greatly appreciated."
While Tommy had to retire because that night revealed he had a pre-existing heart condition that would require him to quit boxing and MMA fighting, he's grateful to be able to stay in the game by training others, and, of course, being able to spend time with his family.
"I had my little scare, brush with death, and, you know, I'm still here thanks to these guys because if it wasn't for the fire department being there, you know, I wouldn't be here.
And while this is just a small token of what the Bagnasco's say is a lifetime of gratitude, Karin says it's more than just thanks she thinks of when it comes to those seven men.
"It's something that I can never thank them enough," Karin said. "They put their life on the line every single day doing what they do. They helped him. And he's here because of them. They will forever be in my heart and in my prayers every night, that they're safe and sound and get to go home to their families as well, they way they brought Tommy back to me."
The firefighters recognized with the Good Samaritan were:
- Will Private Michael Beilstein
- Battalion Chief Brian Byrd
- Private Damon Dotson II
- Private Anthony Hague
- Private Juston Fisher
- Battalion Chief David Hitt
- Private Kamal Parker
WTOL's Kristi Leigh served as the emcee for the event.