San Diego firefighter who fought off stabber to be honored

Posted at 7:48 AM, Sep 09, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-09 16:59:02-04

SAN DIEGO - A San Diego firefighter will receive the state's highest award for courageous service above and beyond the call of duty next week in recognition of bravery he displayed during a knife attack on a colleague last year, Mayor Kevin Faulconer announced Friday.

Gov. Jerry Brown will award Alex Wallbrett, who works out of San Diego Fire Station 4 in the East Village, with the Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor at a ceremony in Sacramento on Monday.

Wallbrett will be 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," Faulconer said. "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 during an otherwise routine medical call. Vernon was attending to a patient at a downtown trolley stop when a bystander attacked him without warning, stabbing him several times and leaving him with a punctured lung.

Without hesitation, Wallbrett vaulted a three-foot-high barrier and put himself between his partner and the attacker. While protecting Vernon from further injury, Wallbrett suffered knife wounds his back and one of his shoulders, with one puncture 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."

The assailant was convicted of attempted manslaughter and assault with a deadly weapon. He is serving a prison sentence of more than 23 years.