In a somber ceremony, Governor Charlie Baker and other elected officials joined relatives of 9/11 victims at the State House Wednesday morning to mark the 18th anniversary of the devastating terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
But in what has also become one of the brighter moments during the annual commemoration created by the Massachusetts 9/11 Fund, Ross Dugan was awarded the state’s highest civilian honor for bravery, the Madeline “Amy” Sweeney Award.
“I am so humbled by the whole thing,’’ Dugan told reporters after accepting the award from Sweeney’s daughter, Anna, and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito in the House chamber. “It’s really hard to explain. It’s the greatest honor I’ve ever received in my life. What else can I say?”
An electrician from Local 104, Dugan works for the MBTA’s power department. He was driving home to New Bedford after work on Route 24 south when a car crashed and burst into flames Feb. 6.
Polito, as she summarized Dugan’s actions during the ceremony, said that instead of reaching for his cellphone to summon first responders, the New Bedford resident “was the responder.”
Dugan said that after he stopped, he noticed that the gas tank was on fire and that there were four men trapped inside as flames intensified. “I broke the passenger window and pulled all four of them out,’’ he said.
Dugan suffered burns to his hands and face and when asked why he risked his life for strangers, he said simply, “people were stuck inside a car that was on fire.”
Speaking separately, Anna Sweeney said she was “completely blown away” by Dugan’s actions. “He is very, very deserving of my mother’s award,’’ she said.
During the commemoration, relatives of those who lost loved ones 18 years ago sometimes mentioned that their lives have changed since the terror attacks in positive ways. For Anna Sweeney, her change is that she is now a graduate student studying counterterrorism at Northeastern University.
“I just want to learn as much as I can about terrorism and counterterrorism,’’ she said, noting that Boston was also struck by terrorists during the 2013 Marathon bombings. “I want to do the best I can in my role as an individual human being.”
Her mother’s death is one of the forces driving her into this arena, she said.
“Every day I am so proud and honored to be her daughter,’’ Sweeney said. “I hope to make her proud.”
Madeline Sweeney was among those who died in the 9/11 terror attacks. She was a flight attendant on American Airlines Flight 11, which was hijacked after its departure from Logan International Airport and then was flown into the World Trade Center twin towers in New York City.
But during the flight between Boston and New York, Sweeney risked her life by contacting ground services and provided crucial information about the five hijackers before the plane was piloted into the building.
Former New England Patriot Joe Andruzzi was the key note speaker during the House ceremony hosted by House Speaker Robert DeLeo. Andruzzi’s three brothers were New York City firefighters on 9/11 and he spent more than 12 hours waiting to hear whether they were among the hundreds of firefighters who died that day.
They were not, he said.
Andruzzi was also on Boylston Street during the Marathon bombing and he was among the civilians who rushed to help the hundreds wounded by the explosion. One of the most powerful images from that day, he said, was how other civilians reacted.
“I can tell you more people were running down Boylston Street (toward the victims) than running away,’’ he said.
Andruzzi beat back brain cancer and he and his wife, Jen, created a foundation to help families pay some bills while a relative fights cancer. “Live every day to the fullest,’’ he said as ended his speech. “We only have so much time.”
According to New York City police and fire departments, hundreds of police and firefighters who responded to the World Trade Center developed fatal illnesses in the 18 years since the event. More than 340 firefighers and 21 police New York officers died on 9/11.
Baker and Polito were joined by Attorney General Maura Healey and Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh in reading aloud the names of more than 200 victims with Massachusetts connections who perished in the attacks, which also included a third hijacked plane that crashed in Pennsylvania.
Relatives of the dead also read names, including Diane Hunt, whose son, William Christopher Hunt, was killed in the attacks on the Trade Center towers. Hunt, at a separate service held in the House Chamber, read a poem from an unknown author.
The younger Hunt was a 31-year-old bond desk manager and vice president at EuroBrokers at the time of the attacks, according to the official 9/11 Memorial and Museum website and his death notice published in the Globe. He was born in Boston, grew up in Kingston, and lived in Norwalk, Conn., with his wife and their 15-month-old daughter at the time of his death.
Governor Baker took to Twitter to mark the occasion on Wednesday.
“As we lower flags to half-staff and read the names of those we lost on September 11, 2001, we are reminded of the enduring need to honor their memories, on this solemn day and every day,” Baker tweeted.
Mayor Walsh later presided over a wreath-laying ceremony at the city’s memorial to the 9/11 victims in the Boston Public Garden.John R. Ellement can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe. Travis Andersen can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.