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Fire chief honored for bravery in eye of the storm

SPRINGFIELD -- November 17 of last year will be a day Washington Fire Chief Mike Vaughn says he will never forget.
SPRINGFIELD -- November 17 of last year will be a day Washington Fire Chief Mike Vaughn says he will never forget. What he did prompted the state to recognize his efforts. Tuesday, Chief Vaughn was honored at the Firefighter's Medal of Honor Awards ceremony. WCIA-3's Alex Davis was there.

44 firefighters or departments were recognized for their life-saving acts of bravery. Chief Vaughn was among them for his willingness to put others before himself.

There are several moments which stick out in a person's life. Chief Vaughn says, for him, last November 17 is one of them.

"I actually looked up into the sky and there was no doubt that was a tornado. There was debris in the air."

He acted quickly racing around town to alert as many people as he could, all while an EF-4 tornado was right behind him.

"I don't know that I've ever been that scared in my life. I actually called my wife during that, after I'd been to the last church and told her I loved her. I didn't know if I'd see her again."

When the storm was over, debris was everywhere and his brave actions of alerting people was credited with saving lives.

"That is really the heart of Illinois. The heart of a volunteer and all those who came those days after, deserve our everlasting gratitude."

But, Vaughn wouldn't realize what his actions truly meant until months later when he received a letter in the mail from the State Fire Marshal.

"And I was in a hurry going somewhere, and my wife read it after I left and she goes, 'Ugh.' When I came home after an hour, she goes, 'You need to read that letter.'"

The letter was an invitation to the 21st Annual Illinois Fallen Firefighter Memorial and Medal of Honor Awards Ceremony. It's where Vaughn received a Medal of Valor for acts of heroism and bravery.

"And I was very surprised and honored."

23 members of Washington's Volunteer Fire Department were on scene that day. Eight of them lost their own homes. Vaughn says they still served amidst their own suffering.
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