Hudson firefighter first non-Canadian inducted into Order of Red Cross

University of Akron assistant professor recently honored at surprise ceremony

Phil Keren
Kent Weeklies
Hudson firefighter Jeffrey Pellegrino is pictured holding a certificate signifying his induction into the Order of the Red Cross, the Canadian Red Cross' highest honor. A surprise ceremony took place at the Hudson Fire Department. Pellegrino became the first non-Canadian inducted into the Canadian Red Cross' Order of the Red Cross.

HUDSON — A few weeks ago, Jeffrey Pellegrino's wife told him they were going to their daughter's middle school orchestra concert, but he knew something was amiss when she pulled in to the city's fire station.

Pellegrino, an assistant professor in the Department of Disaster Science and Emergency Services at the University of Akron, and a Hudson volunteer firefighter, said he turned to his wife, and asked, "What are we doing here?"

He soon found out when they entered the building and were greeted by Hudson Fire Chief Jerry Varnes, as well as about 30 people in Canada and other locations who were watching via Zoom. Pellegrino learned that he was one of nine people chosen for induction into the Order of the Red Cross, which is the Canadian Red Cross' highest award, according to the Canadian Red Cross website. The award honors "extraordinary people who have provided outstanding humanitarian service at home and abroad," the website stated. Of the 318 people who have earned this honor during the past 30-plus years, Pellegrino is the first non-Canadian to receive the award. 

Varnes, who had coordinated the surprise presentation with Pellegrino's wife, Lisa, presented the award to Pellegrino.

"It was really special," said Pellegrino, who noted his two daughters were also in attendance at the ceremony. "…It was a very big surprise."

On Dec. 5, Pellegrino participated in a Zoom ceremony that was attended by all nine inductees.

Pellegrino said he's worked with the Canadian Red Cross mostly on a national level for about 15 years. While he knew about the Order of the Red Cross, Pellegrino said he "didn't have any clue that they would extend [the honor] to me."

He said he was honored for both his work in Canada and working with Canadians internationally. Pellegrino said he had a role in developing a first aid program that trained trainers.

"I had a Canadian partner and then we probably had three other Canadians who then came into the process and so it's really getting Canadians on the international stage and sharing all the good work that they've been doing in Canada," said Pellegrino. "…My job is to amplify the good things that have been there."

Pellegrino said he's been part of the International First Aid Educators Conference which has taken place in Canada on two different occasions. That conference, Pellegrino said, "allowed international people to come to Canada … to learn and for the Canadians to bring in a lot of their people to get psyched up about new ways of teaching and new concepts that they're going to have to teach in first aid as we continue to develop the guidelines."

People from about 40 different countries have attended the conferences and those attendees include, Pellegrino said, "front-line educators" who teach CPR and first aid, as well as people who design the curriculum. Topics at the conferences range from resilience of communities after a natural disaster to how to tie a tourniquet.

Pellegrino said he has served on the American Red Cross's National Scientific Advisory Council since 2005 and noted his work with that organization put him in touch with members of the Canadian Red Cross.

He noted the council is "very much a collaboration between the Canadian and the American Red Cross" where they do joint research and joint reviews of topics such as resuscitation science, first aid science, aquatics, and disaster preparedness.

As an example, Pellegrino said he has gone to Canada to facilitate conversations among government officials, the Red Cross, and other training organizations. He noted he's also worked with Canadian heart and stroke organizations on "building …consensus on science and treatment."

"I think that collaboration has been generative in terms of getting the right information to the people that need it," said Pellegrino. "We know it's saving lives, so that's good, too."

Pellegrino has been a volunteer firefighter in Hudson since 2013 and served as a volunteer EMT with Hudson EMS for 10 years from 2007 to 2017. He said his work with both the city and the county has helped shape his perspective when he speaks with people in other parts of the world. Conversely, the conversations with people on an international level has armed Pellegrino with valuable information that he brings back to the U.S.

"I take a little bit of Hudson with me when I go to these places and hopefully bring some of that diversity and ideas back to the community," said Pellegrino. "To have the support of the fire chief and the city to do some of that has been really good for me professionally and personally and for my family, I hope."

Varnes said it was "an honor" for him to present the award to Pellegrino a few weeks ago.

"I was fascinated hearing all of the behind-the-scene work Jeffrey has been doing for the Red Cross for so many years," said Varnes. "Jeffrey is not the type of person to brag about his accomplishments, so I was unaware of the significance of his contribution to the international Red Cross community. Hudson is lucky to have someone like Jeffrey living in our community and serving the citizens as a volunteer firefighter."

Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.