When 9-year-old Harrison Espinoza heard from his sister that his mother had passed out while eating, he raced upstairs to her bedroom and immediately assessed the situation — something every good Cub Scout knows to do. He found his mother, slumped back against a pillow, unconscious, with food still in her mouth.

By that time, his mother — Shannon Espinoza — was becoming very pale, explained his younger sister Reese, a precocious 8-year-old. Espinoza, who takes prescribed medication regularly, had come down with a cold and taken over-the-counter medicine in addition to her prescription. The combination caused her to lose consciousness in her eastside home, where she lives with her three children.

Harrison, having listened to his mother talk about her recent EMT training and CPR classes, reached into her mouth, performed a fingersweep of her airway and leaned her forward until she was sitting up in bed. Knowing the danger his mother was in, Harrison began pounding on her back in an attempt to revive her and loosen any remnants of food from her throat. Within minutes, Espinoza awakened and coughed the food particles loose.

"He's a protector by nature," said Shannon Espinoza proudly at a ceremony honoring her son at the Petaluma Fire Department on Monday afternoon. "For Harrison, it was no big deal. After I woke up and was OK, he and Reese went back downstairs and watched television again. That's how natural it was for him."

But Espinoza, who recently interned at the Petaluma Fire Department during her EMT training and is currently studying to become a paramedic, understands the hard work and resilience it takes to save someone's life. "I was shocked and surprised by what Harrison and Reese did," she said. "It's what firefighters and paramedics are paid to do everyday."

In fact, Espinoza was so overwhelmed by her son's actions that she knew he needed more recognition than she could offer. So she called the Petaluma Fire Department and told Captain Dan Farren about Harrison's heroics. Farren was immediately impressed.

"When we heard what Harrison had done for his mother, we knew we wanted to do something that gave him two thumbs up," said Farren.

In a private ceremony attended by Farren, Battalion Chief Phil Sutsos, two other firefighters and several members of the Espinoza family, the Petaluma Fire Department presented a shy, but grinning, Harrison with an "Award of Merit" certificate and a giftcard to Powell's Sweet Shop.

Harrison, dressed in his full Cub Scout uniform complete with sash, badges and a handkerchief tied neatly around his neck, accepted the accolades gracefully before climbing aboard the fire engines and exploring every nook and cranny with Reese and his 5-year-old brother Carter.

Harrison's big heart was evident as he helped guide his younger siblings around the fire station on Monday. He told Farren and others that he wants to either become a doctor or be in the Coast Guard when he grows up.

The Old Adobe fourth grader then pulled his best friend, grandfather and retired San Rafael Police Officer Ron Averiette around training equipment and laughed gleefully when Averiette lifted him up so he could reach a speed punching bag hanging in the workout area of the fire station.

And now, after performing his heroic act, Harrison continues going above and beyond by checking on his mother every night before going to sleep, according to Espinoza.

"It's really sweet," she said. "How many 9-year-olds do you know like that?"

(Contact Janelle Wetzstein at janelle.wetzstein@arguscourier.com)