Gov. Jerry Brown honors San Diego firefighter with highest award

Posted at 7:37 AM, Sep 12, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-12 17:09:09-04

SAN DIEGO - A San Diego firefighter received the state's highest award for courageous public service Monday in recognition of on-duty actions he took last year while intervening in a life-threatening assault on a colleague.

Gov. Jerry Brown presented Alex Wallbrett, who works out of San Diego Fire Station 4 in the East Village, with the Governor's Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor during a late-morning ceremony at the state Capitol in Sacramento.

Wallbrett is the first San Diego emergency services worker to receive the honor since it was established by the state Legislature in 2003.

"Alex is truly one of San Diego's finest, and his selfless bravery saved the life of a fellow firefighter," Mayor Kevin Faulconer said last week in announcing the award. "His actions prove that San Diego's first responders are second to none. ... Alex does all of San Diego proud in receiving this award."

On June 24, 2015, Wallbrett came to the aid of fellow firefighter Ben Vernon, who was attending to a patient at a downtown trolley stop when a bystander, 34-year-old Ryan Allen Jones, attacked him without warning. Jones stabbed Vernon several times with a 3-inch pocket knife, leaving him with a punctured lung and other injuries.

Without hesitation, Wallbrett vaulted a three-foot high barrier and put himself between his partner and the attacker, officials said. While protecting Vernon from further injury, Wallbrett suffered several stab wounds, one perilously close to his spine.

"Alex is certainly deserving of this honor," San Diego Fire Chief Brian Fennessy said. "His actions are the very definition of valor -- great courage in the face of danger."

Jones, who claimed that he knifed the firefighters in self-defense, was convicted of attempted manslaughter and assault with a deadly weapon and sentenced to more than 23 years in prison.