In 2015, firefighter and United States Marine Corps veteran, Cpl. Paul Annunziata received the Medal of Valor after saving a woman’s life in a fire. A 17-year veteran of the department, Annunziata said that like with any fire, he went in just hoping he and his colleagues would get out and go home at the end of the night.
“We had a high-rise fire, and there was a woman trapped in her bedroom,” Annunziata, 42, said as he set the scenario. “We had to walk up to the fifth floor, hook up a hose line and do a search.” Annunziata explained that doing all of that takes time, and there was a limited window where his team of nine firefighters could go in and hope to find anyone alive.
Annunziata expressed joy and relief, recalling finding the woman alive. According an Asbury Park Sun article on the event, the woman was transported to an area hospital following the accidental fire.
The New Jersey Devils celebrated Annunziata’s service by recognizing the six-year Season Ticket Member as the team’s Hero of the Game on February 19, as the Devils hosted the New York Islanders at Prudential Center. Friends and fellow firefighters nominated Annunziata after seeing other heroes get honored and thinking he’d be a good fit. “They put me up. I didn’t know about it until the very end, but I’m very honored,” he said of learning he’d be the hero.
Service runs in Annunziata’s family. Both his father and grandfather served their communities as firefighters, and Annunziata said that after briefly working in corrections, he decided he wanted to follow his family’s path and become a firefighter. His father and grandfather also served in the military, as part of the United States Navy and United States Army, respectively. Annunziata’s son also serves in the Army.
The Neptune resident joined the Marines in January of 1993, choosing the branch after watching a video at his local recruiting station. In addition to being “the toughest and the coolest” branch, Annunziata said he liked the uniform. “You look sharp in it,” he added.
While serving, Annunziata was deployed to Iraq in 1994, assisting in the aftermath of the Gulf War. When former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein began moving forces toward the border with Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, Annunziata and other troops were there to discourage further movements.
After “a couple of months,” Annunziata was sent to Somalia, where he assisted with Operation Restore Hope, a UN sanctioned action to create a protected environment for humanitarian operations in the southern part of the country. Annunziata said Somalia was among the worst places he was ever sent. “It was a tough assignment, because you didn’t know who was shooting at you,” Annunziata said. “It was urban.”
Before leaving the Marines in 1996, Annunziata received a Good Conduct Medal, which he says is his most personally meaningful of his awards and commendations. “You couldn’t get written up for three years to get a Good Conduct Medal, and when I joined, I had a lot of growing up to do,” Annunziata explained. “I didn’t think I’d be good and not get written up, because authority was an issue when I was growing up…and I’m a big jokester,” he said as his wife, Anita, laughed.
A die-hard Devils fan, Annunziata said his favorite player on the team is Bobby Farnham, but his all-time favorite to wear a Devils jersey is Scott Stevens. With both of them, Annunziata said he considers them fighters. “I like guys that are not going to take any nonsense, and stand up for their fellow comrades.”