VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. -- For pulling swimmers to safety from the choppy waters of Sandbridge, Barry Kirschner was among the people recently honored at the Neptune Festival's Hometown Heroes ceremony.
A volunteer in the Virginia Beach Department of Emergency Medical Services, Kirschner was recognized along with a teacher, several first responders and members of the military.
Described as a quiet and unassuming volunteer, Kirschner received the Medal of Valor from Virginia Beach in 2012 for getting three swimmers out of the rip-current waters. Two survived and walked away. One did not.
"People called me heroic. My wife and kids were so proud of me," Kirschner said. "And, I've replayed that rescue a hundred times in my head. Yeah, I guess I was a hero that day."
"But," he continued, "I was there at the right time and the right place. There's a very fine line between being a hero and not doing anything at all. You can't be reckless out there. You must have some knowledge of what you're doing."
Kirschner began volunteering as an emergency medical technician in 2007. He often puts in more than 48 hours per month working as a volunteer.
"EMTs work four 12-hour shifts of volunteer time each month," Kirschner said. "Right now, I'm doing course work at Tidewater Community College. Additionally, my volunteer work in the ER involves three, eight-hour shifts a month, and I do 36 hours of field time with my mentor in an ambulance."
Kirschner is striving to become a paramedic, the highest certification level of the Virginia Beach Department of Emergency Medical Services.
"I'm about a year away from reaching that goal," he said.
Raised in the Kempsville area, Kirschner graduated from Kempsville High School and later Longwood University. He is married, has two sons, and lives in Sandbridge.
He has a full-time job selling construction equipment and admits it's often tough to balance his volunteer work and his job.
"Fortunately, I can do a lot of volunteering at night," he said.
As a young man, Kirschner worked as a lifeguard on the resort strip. "It was that exposure to saving lives that first got me interested in becoming an EMT volunteer," he said.
Kirschner said the best thing about volunteering as an EMT is the positive impact you have on people in the community.
"To see the look on their faces when you're the first responder to a 911 call and you safely deliver them to a hospital. To have that positive impact. That's the best part of volunteering as an EMT."
Division Chief Tom Green, who has been with the Virginia Beach Department of Emergency Medical Services for 22 years, commented on Kirschner's volunteer experiences.
"Integrity is the first word I'd use to describe Barry's character," Green said. "I've never known another volunteer who goes above and beyond his assigned duties to do the best he can."
When asked what personal traits he has that every EMT should have, Kirschner replied: "Being street smart; being unafraid to ask for help; and, being always willing to challenge yourself."