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Three first responders honored with West Virginia Medal of Valor

West Virginia Press Association Staff Report

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – “Today we come together to recognize the extraordinary acts of bravery performed by three West Virginia first responders, who in the face of danger demonstrated unwavering commitment to protecting and serving their communities.”

That’s what Deputy Homeland Security Cabinet Secretary Rob Cunningham told those gathered at Charleston’s Culture Center to begin the second annual West Virginia Medal of Valor presentation ceremony. 

“These first responders went above and beyond the call of duty, risking their own safety in order to protect others,” Cunningham added. 

Conceived of by West Virginia’s own Hershel “Woody” Williams, and officially established in 2020, the Medal of Valor is presented to members of law enforcement, firefighters, and emergency medical service personnel who “distinguish themselves conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity beyond the call of duty in the performance of their duties.”

 “As we reflect on the sacrifices made and the challenges overcome by these outstanding first responders, let us not only celebrate their individual acts of valor, but also acknowledge a collective spirit of courage and service, and unwavering commitment to duty demonstrated by these individuals,” Cunningham added. 

On-hand for the ceremony was Bryan Casey of the Woody Williams Foundation, who told the Medal recipients, “It’s your actions that really led him (Williams) to want to have the state establish this Medal, so that actions like yours get the recognition that they deserve.” 

Casey is also the grandson of Woody Williams. 

At the conclusion of Casey’s remarks, Cunningham, along with Gov. Jim Justice, presented the Medal Of Valor to the first of three West Virginia first responders – David S. Fry.

“On March 28, 2017, Cpl. Fry responded to a domestic violence call in Lincoln County that resulted in a life being saved,” Cunningham explained. “Cpl. Fry’s selfless actions in the face of an armed perpetrator provided the victim a window of opportunity to escape the residence, thus saving her life.”

Fry, Cunningham further explained, placed himself in between the victim and gunshots as the perpetrator began to fire a weapon. Fry was shot twice. 

“Cpl. Fry has since been promoted to sergeant, and has subsequently retired,” Cunningham added. His service to the State of West Virginia is exemplified by his heroic actions in the early morning hours of March 28, 2017, and stands as a testament to Sgt. Fry’s courage and honor.”

The next two Medal of Valor recipients were honored together, as their actions happened as the result of a single incident. 

“Today we also honor the selfless actions of Upshur County Homeland Security and Emergency Management Deputy Director Derek V. Long, and Upshur County Sheriff John Michael Coffman, who worked seamlessly together to evacuate motorists during an active shooter situation along Interstate 79,” Cunningham said. 

“On the morning of June 16, 2022, Deputy Director Long saw what he believed to be a car accident,” Cunningham continued. “In an attempt to offer aid, he encountered a lone gunman who opened fire.”

While taking gunfire, Cunningham explained, Long successfully blocked the opposite traffic lane, thus reducing the risk of injury to motorists. Long also successfully established a perimeter around the gunman. 

Coffman, who was one of the first law enforcement officers to arrive on the scene, expanded that perimeter. However Coffman was ultimately shot in the leg by the gunman. 

“After he was struck, Deputy Director Long […] left [his] position of cover and assisted in rendering aid to Coffman,” Cunningham noted. “This all took place while they were taking fire. Long was able to get to Coffman through a barrage of gunfire, and drive him to the hospital where he received life-saving medical care.”

“The heroic and selfless actions of both Sheriff Coffman, and Deputy Director Long not only saved the lives, but also prevented any additional injuries from being inflicted upon the citizens of the State of West Virginia,” Cunningham added.

After all three Medals had been presented, Gov. Justice told recipients, “From all of us, and absolutely I’ve said it 10 million times, you’re the first people we call. The first person we call when we’re in real trouble is you.”

And what do you do – over and over – you run to the fire,” Justice added. “You run to the defense of all of us.”