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'Our Heroes' luncheon honors first-responders for making a difference

First responders from Tampa and Hillsborough County agencies paid tribute to their fallen colleagues during the 25th annual ‘Our Heroes’’ luncheon Tuesday at the Tampa Hilton Downtown hotel. [Special to the Times | Michael McCoy with MPStudios.com]
Published May 21

TAMPA — Tampa Firefighter Luigi Young never intended to have a career in public service. He planned on becoming an engineer.

But after enrolling in the emergency medical technician program at Hillsborough Community College during a summer break at the University of South Florida, he never turned back.

He knew he made the right decision on the morning of December 26, 2017, when he woke to shouts from family members that a nearby house was on fire. He ran into the burning home without safety equipment and was able to rescue his neighbor. He administered CPR to the man's dogs , and even saved two pet birds on the back porch. SEE PREVIOUS COVERAGE

"At first I thought that it couldn't be real," Young said. While it wasn't his first time fighting a fire, he said it was the first time he made a difference.

Young was one of 14 Hillsborough County first-responders honored Tuesday at the 25th annual "Our Heroes Luncheon" at the Tampa Hilton Downtown hotel.

The event recognized emergency workers from 11 Hillsborough County agencies — firefighters, police officers, sheriff's deputies and a highway trooper — who risk their lives daily for strangers.

As in previous years, the luncheon honored fallen heroes and awarded eight students — all of them children of first-responders and law enforcement officers — with a Coy L. Sykes Memorial scholarship.

John H. Sykes, the chairman emeritus of Sykes Enterprises, Inc., created the scholarship in memory of his father, Captain Coy L. Sykes. Recipients get $2,000 a year for four years.

Jane Castor, who is a regular attendee at the luncheon, says she cherishes the event every year. But this year was different since she was there as Tampa's newly-elected mayor rather than its police chief, a position she held from 2009 to 2015.

"(When) police officers, firefighters and paramedics go about doing their job serving our community every day, they do it without an expectation of recognition,'' Castor said. "But to have the recognition is amazing and for me it's very personal."

Contact Monique Welch at mwelch@tampabay.com or Follow Mo_UNIQUE_ .

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