Michael Benton was on garbage detail at the annual Prime Rib Dinner fundraiser in June when a woman began to choke.
Benton, an emergency medical technician and volunteer firefighter, was quick to take action. He performed the Heimlich Maneuver, clearing the woman's airway and saving her life. She was even able to carry on with her meal.
At the annual inspection dinner at on Saturday night, Springs Fire chiefs honored Benton with the Firefighter of the Year Award for 2011.
Also, First Lieutenant Karen Haab, an advanced emergency medical technician, was recognized as Emergency Medical Service Personnel of the Year, and Lt. Darren Downs received the Officer of the Year Award. The ambulance crew also won Unit of the Year.
Chief John Claflin said Benton was an easy choice for the annual award for exemplary service and heroism. "He asked her if she was choking, she nodded. He got behind her, did the Heimlich Maneuver, she was back breathing and he went back to doing what he was doing," Claflin said.
Benton was completely surprised when his name was called. "I think he kind of forgot all about that incident last year because it was last June," Claflin said.
Benton said it was a great feeling to know he saved a life. "It's what we're trained to do," he said. "The more people we can get to do this, the better off the community will be."
Benton is from a small town in Alabama, but moved to the East End to be closer to his mother in 1990. He served in the Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps for a few years. While working at in East Hampton, he met his wife, Springs native Cathy Coleman. He moved to Springs after they married 22 years ago. His wife is also an EMT in the Springs Fire Department.
A former lieutenant on engine truck 943, Benton is a quiet, humble man, Claflin said. "You ask him to do something, he does it," he said.
Benton, who now works for , is busy with three children, ages 17, 12 and 7, and still finds time to volunteer.
"What you put into it is what you get out of it," he said, adding that the department can always use volunteers.
Haab is a long-time leader of the EMS service in the department, as well as a firefighter. She joined the department 11 years, first becoming an EMT, then an A-EMT and later a firefighter. "I really enjoy the ambulance," she said. "For me, it's a hobby."
Haab owns and run Double A House and Property Management and has a daughter, Rachel Haab, 19.
The chief said Haab is extremely active and very reliable. "She's unbelievable. She's there on most of those calls, between ALS and all the paperwork, she's great."
She said she also loves the camaraderie. "Everybody becomes a big family," she said. She was previously named Firefighter of the Year in 2005, but had never won the EMS award, of which she usually has to make a recommendation to the chief as to who should get it.
"To get that award is one of the highest honors you can get," she said.