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Many IGA staff go above and beyond their job descriptions, but for Joe Theriault, an employee of Star City IGA in Presque Isle, Maine, his accomplishments include running into burning buildings and saving lives.
This past October, Theriault was taking out the cardboard at work one day when he saw what appeared to be a fire in the apartment building behind the store.
“I saw black smoke coming out of the roof,” he said. “So I ran inside and started knocking on doors.” Theriault called 911, and began going door to door to help people. Turns out the fire had started in an apartment where no one was home, so none of the residents knew there was a fire until they heard Theriault at their door.
According to Josh Tweedie, who owns Star City and two other IGA stores, the cause of the fire was believed to be electrical issues. He credits Theriault’s quick actions for not only saving lives, but saving the apartment building and the store, which is attached to the apartments. The apartment dwellers have been displaced during the rebuilding process, but at least the building was intact, he said.
The store's storage area sits under the apartment building near the back loading dock. The only damage the store suffered was a $200-$300 loss of back stock on shelves that got hit from the water and fire-retardant foam that seeped in, but they were open for business the next morning, said Tweedie.
“Joe saved our building. Had he not reacted as fast as he did, we could have suffered a total loss,” he said. To recognize Theriault’s actions, Tweedie nominated him for a “Real Heroes” award, given out through the Maine chapter of the American Red Cross.
Theriault was chosen as one of 16 individuals and businesses honored for displaying courage amidst difficult situations, and for stepping up to aid their communities in times of need, during the Aroostook County chapter of the American Red Cross annual awards ceremony on May 17.
The Real Heroes Breakfast, one of four held around the state, proved to be the largest that the American Red Cross of Maine has hosted this year, with 325 people in attendance at the Stone Ridge Event Center in Presque Isle. All award recipients were nominated by friends, family members, or fellow community members.
Theriault, who was recently promoted to store manager, says he was surprised to be chosen and maintains a modest approach to receiving the award.
“In my mind, I didn’t think it was that big of a deal. When it was happening, I thought, 'People need help, so go help.’ I thought I was doing something that anyone else would do,” he said.
Theriault’s ability to think and act quickly was put into action a second time, right before the Red Cross award ceremony. Theriault was in the store shopping and heard yelling and sound of cars colliding. An elderly woman had pulled out of the parking lot and didn’t see an oncoming car. Theriault was one of the first on the scene, making sure she was okay, said Tweedie.
“That’s the type of the guy he is. We’re lucky to have him,” he said.