1 of 3 Ontario firefighters chosen to receive the Firefighter’s Medal of Merit

Article by Al Rivett      

It’s been a whirlwind few days for Alnwick/Haldimand Township volunteer firefighter Matt Dickison since the news broke January 4 that his heroic act of a year ago would be recognized with a prestigious provincial award.

Dickison, along with two other Ontario firefighters Matt DeVries of Wainfleet, and Jamie Hiller of Centre Wellington, was named a 2021 recipient of the Medal of Merit    awarded by the Fire Fighters Association of Ontario (FFAO) to any firefighter in the province of Ontario for meritorious service above and beyond the call of duty. The award is given each year for an emergency event where a firefighter or firefighters show good judgement, and/or take a calculated risk to save a life.

Dickison is one of only 55 medal recipients since the awards program began in 1983. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, Dickison and the other recipients will receive their medals at a later date.

“I tried to keep it low key,” said Dickison in an interview with News Now Network upon learning he would be receiving the award. I called my wife (Michelle) and that’s about it. I went into work (at Hamilton Township) and my phone exploded” with calls and messages of congratulations after the Fire Fighters Association of Ontario issued a news release on the award on Monday.

“I’m honoured, I guess; I’m not good at talking about myself. When Jamie Hiller (fellow Medal of Merit winner and FFAO director) called me it was a surprise, a complete surprise.”

Dickison admitted the recognition by his firefighting peers is a bit overwhelming to him, as he prefers flying under the radar as opposed to the spotlight’s glare.

“It was hard to keep it hush-hush. I don’t like to be in the spotlight,” said the 38-year-old resident of Vernonville who’s served as an Alnwick/Haldimand volunteer firefighter for just under three years. “I do something and I hope nobody notices. I’ve always been like that. I don’t really want the accolades or a pat on the back.”

The details of what occurred just before midnight on Monday, January 6, 2020, are still crystal clear in Dickison’s memory. Returning home after helping his wife at her cleaning company, they were headed north on County Road 23 when they encountered a car in the ditch, a lone male at the wheel.

“At first, I asked my wife should we stop? And I thought, ‘Yeah, we should probably stop’. We were in her company car. She backed up to the car and I looked in and his foot was still on the gas. He was unconscious. I banged on the window and nothing. The door was locked so I was able to get my arm through the window and unlock it. I opened the door and tapped him and nothing. He was still breathing.”

“I was going to tell my wife to call 911 then the car caught on fire, so I ran to (tell) her. I then ran back to the car, tapped him, screamed at him and finally got him out. He was totally dead weight, so it was hard. When I was getting him out I noticed a dog in the back (seat). I was kind of surprised there was a dog in the car — a husky. I thought he might be timid, but he was fine. I threw the dog in the back of our car. At that time, the man came to and said ‘What’s going on?’”

“As soon as I saw the flames I thought I had better move quickly. The car was in the ditch so I literally had to stand on the door trim to get him out.”

The car was completely burned, gone in about five minutes, everything was on fire in it.

Emergency personnel later arrived at the scene, so Dickison and his wife continued with their drive home, but he admits nerves and adrenaline kept him awake for the remainder of the night. “I didn’t really sleep that night”.

The next morning, as soon as the news of his heroism found its way into the media, Dickison said he received many calls of congratulations over the next 24 hours. “They said ‘Wow, Matt, you’re a hero’ and I said, ‘No, but thanks’.” 

Hired into the position with Alnwick/Haldimand in October of 2018, Dickison said he enjoys the challenges of being a volunteer firefighter. The motivation to become involved in firefighting came as many of his friends were serving at fire stations around Northumberland County and Peterborough. 

“All my friends are firefighters. For the last 13 or 14 years, the guys I hung out with are all on fire departments, the majority of them in Port Hope and in Peterborough. I heard their stories,” said Dickison. 

He said the hands-on training he’s received as part of the Alnwick/Haldimand fire crew were critical in helping him make the right decisions on that fateful night a year ago.

He hopes to stay on as a volunteer firefighter for the township for many years to come.

“I’ll probably keep doing this until they make me quit,” said Dickison with a laugh. 


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