ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — A bond between survivors and their heroes are like no other.

There are countless stories about first responders risking their lives to save those around them. Rockford Fire honored some of those stories on Wednesday.

It was a celebration that was packed with so many emotions. Survivors thanked those that saved them from their darkest moments and gave a chance for the two sides to connect after going through such tragedy.

“I just really appreciate the genuineness of caring for me and my life,” said Matthew Allison.

Allison was one of four survivors honored by Rockford Fire. He suffered from substance abuse and mental health issues, but he was able to find his way with the help of Rockford Fire and Emergency Service.

“These people that have been in my life have changed my life,” Allison said. “They have showed real genuine care for me, and I believe they should be honored for that.”

“So, we are just blessed and humbled to be a part of that journey with them, walking alongside them and meeting with them in their home or street corner, or mission shelters. Wherever they’re at,” added Ryan Eads of UW Health.

Rockford Emergency Services were called to more than 32,000 incidents in 2022. From fires and broken bones to trouble breathing and water rescues, there are endless stories about first responders saving lives.

“How do you not get emotional, right? Because it’s just incredible when you see the stories and you hear, I’m sorry, you hear the stories and just the chain of events, and then they’re here,” said Rockford Fire Chief Michele Pankow. “They’re here talking to you. They’re here, they’re on stage, and they get to meet the responders.”

First responders do not work for a thank you, but they said that it can go a long way as they continue to risk their lives to save others.

“I think it’s important for our responders, because our responders don’t always get that opportunity to see the good that comes of what they do, right,” Pankow said. “Quite often, you know, they see very, very tragic endings, so I think it’s important for them to see the good endings and to meet the people.”

The program that Allison began in 2016 is a 12-week process that helps people recover from mental health and substances issues. May times, however, emergency staff works with those recovering long after that 12-week period is over.