Published: Apr 18, 2013 5:29 PM EDT
Updated: Apr 18, 2013 5:46 PM EDT

PINE ISLAND, Fla.- It's one of the most prestigious awards a first responder can receive: the Phoenix Award. Thursday, nine local heroes are the recipients.

Mike Zubal has lived on Pine Island since the 1970s. Last year, while on his way to work, he suffered a heart attack. Luckily that's not where his story ends.

Sheri Vara is a Lee County paramedic. Thursday, she joined 6 Matlacha-Pine Island firefighters, and two of her EMS co-workers, to receive the Phoenix Award. "It's always an honor to be recognized for something that we do every day," she said. 

On each plaque is a blazing bird of fire. In Greek mythology, the Phoenix is said to rise from the ashes: a fitting picture for the way these first responders pulled Mike Zubal from the brink of death in December.

"Driving along and like somebody flipped a switch. lights were out and the next thing i know i was in the hospital," he said.
Zubal suffered a heart attack on the road, and collided with another vehicle. Paramedic Craig Angel was first on the scene. "I found that my patient was pulse-less and not breathing," Angel said.

On the way to the hospital first responders shocked him seven times. Finally, a pulse returned. 

"To bring somebody back, it's not like in the TV shows where it happens every episode. We do the best we can so when somebody does come back, after our efforts, its a good feeling inside," said Angel. 

"It's just an awesome feeling makes you really realize what you take for granted sometimes in life. It's a humbling thing," said firefighter Justin Greer.

"They are who they are, and they know me, and they care that much about the community," said Zubal.

This is the first time the district has given out a Phoenix Award. Zubal says, its even more of an honor for him, because he grew up on pine island, and is friends with many of those first responders who saved his life.