Medal of Valor Awarded to Charlotte Firefighter for Exceptional Courage
Kevin Campbell
Medal of Valor

A Charlotte firefighter has been awarded the Charlotte Fire Department's Medal of Valor for exhibiting exceptional courage, regardless of personal safety, in an attempt to save and protect others during an active gun shooting incident.

Firefighter Michael Cunningham received the medal from Charlotte Fire Chief Reginald Johnson during a ceremony on Friday.

The medal honors Cunningham's actions on Oct. 4, when he left his firehouse, Station 41, to purchase groceries to make lunch for his fellow crew members.

Exiting the grocery store on Berewick Town Center Drive in Steele Creek, Cunningham was walking through the parking lot when he heard shouts that gunshots had been fired in an area of the lot where a vehicle was in motion and running into another vehicle.

"There was a lady walking towards the area, and I grabbed her and pulled her aside," Cunningham said. "Multiple people were trying to walk up to record, and I kept telling everybody, 'Get back, get back, get back.'"

Cunningham sought protection from the gunfire behind a vehicle and called 911 to have emergency services dispatched to the scene.

After some of the chaos had calmed down, and when Cunningham felt it was safe enough, he instructed the woman he had pulled to safety to get in her car and drive to a safe place.

The next shouts he heard were that someone had been shot.

Cunningham went to the gunshot victim, began rendering emergency medical aid and told bystanders to be on the lookout for the shooter who had left the area.

"I lifted up his shirt and saw the gunshot wound, and I applied pressure and told him to take deep breaths," Cunningham said.

Still on the phone with 911, Cunningham saw Charlotte Fire Engine 38 arrive on scene; the engine's firefighters took over care for the patient. Not long after, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers and emergency medical services also arrived on the scene.

"I was a little shaken at first, but my instincts and training as a firefighter kicked in," Cunningham said. "First is life safety. We get people to safety."

Ten days later, Cunningham entered the auditorium of the Charlotte Police and Fire Training Academy, unaware that he was receiving the Medal of Valor. 

Surrounded by fellow firefighters and his family, Cunningham went on stage to receive the medal. His first thought was of his 1-year-old son.

"It was a proud moment to represent my family and the Charlotte Fire Department," Cunningham said. "It was an inspiration to me to be part of something greater than myself and to be an example to my son. Hopefully, this will help mold him to follow in my footsteps."

"Facing mortal danger, Cunningham demonstrated courage and dedication despite the risk presented to him, in order to protect others and give critical aid to a gunshot wound victim," said Chief Reginald Johnson, "Cunningham is a firefighter who exemplifies the best of Charlotte Fire. Our department is filled with extraordinary people who risk their lives every day to protect our community."

"At any moment, we're trained to remember what we've been taught. You remember the different situations and experiences you had, and it all kind of comes flooding back in that moment, and [you] make a decision and go with it," Cunningham said.

A suspect in the shooting was arrested by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, and an investigation is ongoing.