PUNTA GORDA — Amy Judy, a Charlotte County firefighter of 26 years, was one of four firefighters awarded a Medal of Valor for heroic actions during a house fire in January. Last weekend, she was honored in a different way, chosen for a “hometown hero” flight with the Thunderbirds during the Florida International Air Show.

“It was incredible,” she said. “I didn’t realize what I had done until I went to the airshow the next day and watched them fly, and then I couldn’t believe I was in one of those planes.”

Judy said she came out in the early morning to be walked through safety procedures, the details of what the flight would involve, and how her body might react. It was a lot of information to absorb at once, and the next thing she knew she was climbing into the plane.

“Suddenly the things they were telling me started to make sense,” she said. “It was everything you’d expect. It was fast. It was thrilling. It was beautiful.”

Judy said it was a cloudy day when they went up, and the pilot, Jason Markzon, also known as Thunderbird 8, didn’t seem very happy about the lack of visibility, but once they broke through the clouds, the sky was clear blue.

“It’s a great metaphor for life, because above the clouds, the sun’s still shining,” she said.

They did four- and eight-point turns, inversions, some low passes, and finished with a 9G fall. A few minutes after they finished, she said, her stomach told her it didn’t like that, but she still enjoyed every part of the flight.

Judy was nominated for the hometown hero program for her actions in helping save the lives of two women during a house fire. That act itself was an amazing experience. While people imagine firefighters saving people every day, Judy said it’s actually a rare experience that many firefighters never have in their career.

When crews arrived to the home that day in January, a man frantically told them his wife and mother were still inside the home. Judy began a search alone, without water present before a second fire engine arrived to help.

She and another firefighter carried an elderly woman out of a back bedroom. The woman has since recovered after a lengthy stay in the hospital, Judy said. She and her colleagues Lt. John Kelly, Firemedic Nick Miller and Battalion Chief Michael Clements all received Medals of Valor for their actions.

It’s only the second save she remembers Charlotte County Fire & EMS being involved in during her career and the first one she was personally involved in.

“It’s the most incredible feeling in the world,” Judy said. “That’s what we train for, but you just never know. It’s kind of like you were a teacher, one of your students becoming president of the United States. It could happen, but you never expect it to happen.”

Judy grew up in Charlotte County and graduated from Port Charlotte High School before attending the University of Tampa. She was in business school and had only about six months left when she came across an EMT book and knew that was what she wanted to do instead. She finished out her degree but then started EMT school and began at Charlotte County Fire & EMS in 1993. It’s a job she still loves after 26 years.

“It’s different every day,” she said. “You never know what you’re going to encounter when you go to work, which might terrify some people, but I think the people that gravitate toward the emergency services realm, that’s what part of the job appeals to them the most.”

Though the hours can be long and the schedule often means working on holidays, Judy said the reward of helping someone on their worst day is always worth it.

“And then to be selected to do something like this, that was just insane,” she said. “I kept looking around going, whose life is this anyway?”

Email: anne.easker@yoursun.com

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