Civilians and First Responders Receive Valley Preferred Spirit of Courage Awards for Burn Heroism
Lehigh Valley, Pa. (Oct. 7, 2015) – A physician severely burned in an explosion who underwent years of therapy to return to her practice and patients along with other residents from northern and northeastern Pennsylvania were honored for acts of heroism or commitment to burn education on October 6, 2015 at the tenth annual Valley Preferred Spirit of Courage Awards Celebration held at Coca-Cola Park in Allentown, Pa.
The program was started locally by the Burn Prevention Network in partnership with Valley Preferred and Lehigh Valley Health Network to recognize persons who have risked their lives to save others from a burn or death by fire. The program also recognizes individuals and groups who have done an outstanding job promoting fire safety or burn prevention education.
This year's awards honored first responders or private citizens for brave acts or education performed between June 1, 2014, and May 31, 2015.
Valley Preferred, a provider-owned, preferred provider organization, is sponsoring the program to raise public awareness regarding burn safety and prevention. "Valley Preferred is honored to join in the efforts to recognize first responders for their acts of courage, as well as support ongoing programs promoting fire safety and burn prevention education," says Valley Preferred executive director Jack A. Lenhart, MD. "The lifesaving efforts of first responders and burn prevention education are two of the most meaningful ways to protect the health of families here in our community."
Burn Prevention Network director Dan Dillard said that risking one's life for another, especially for a stranger, is the epitome of brotherhood and citizenship. "We also acknowledge the efforts of those who dedicate their time and talent to preventing burn injuries as well as those extraordinary individuals who rise up from devastating burn injury to inspire and support fellow burn survivors."
The guest speaker for this year's event was actor Randolph Mantooth of the landmark television series "Emergency." In addition to his popularity among television viewers, Mantooth is well-known among firefighters, paramedics and EMTs the world over as the man who inspired, and continues to inspire, their careers. He is one of very few civilians who has earned the privilege of being embraced as "one of their own" by the brotherhood of firefighters since he has stood at Ground Zero at the invitation of FDNY, and has flown on rescue missions with the elite LA County Fire Hawk crews. He is as equally familiar to the small-town fire department as he is to the U.S. Fire Administrator for Homeland Security.
Here are the honorees who were recognized at the event:
The Phoenix Award
Nancy Bridgens, DO, Kimberton, Pa.
In 2010, Nancy Bridgens was a busy obstetrician/gynecologist. She had a full life that included a farm and horses as well as her family. But her life took a sudden turn when she was caught in an explosion and severely burned. She spent months in the Lehigh Valley Health Network Regional Burn Center and a rehabilitation hospital. Her hands were so badly scarred she was unable to use them – and unable to work.
While she could no longer practice medicine, Bridgens never let her handicap keep her from other things she loved. She couldn't ride horses, but she could help care for them. She could still spend time in her gardens and nurture every living thing on her farm. She could even help nurture other burn survivors through support groups and activities in the burn community. And she always had time for her grandchildren.
Bridgens' unshakeable faith was the foundation for her positive attitude and source of her quiet strength and incredible determination. She underwent numerous surgeries, participated in scar studies and had years of occupational therapy in hope of regaining use of her hands. Her hard work paid off. After five years she has returned to her medical practice and the patients who missed her greatly. She shares her scars and her strength in the role she cherishes most – caring for others.
Valley Preferred Spirit of Courage Award
Officer Robert Cohowicz
Stroud Area Regional Police Department
In the early morning of a cold January day, a call came in for an explosion and house fire in East Stroudsburg. Officer Cohowicz arrived on scene to find flames shooting 60 feet in the air and the garage leveled. His previous experience as a firefighter had taught him that this fire would spread quickly. When he learned that an elderly woman was inside, he kicked in the door and braved the heavy smoke and flames to find the disoriented woman and bring her out safely.
Officer Robert DeFuso
Lehighton Police Department
Capt. Douglas Nothstein
Lehighton Fire Department and officer, Bethlehem Police Department
When a call came in for a house fire in Lehighton Borough on a Sunday morning in April, fire, police and EMS teams were dispatched simultaneously. Officer DeFuso was first to arrive. When he learned an elderly woman was inside, he immediately entered the smoke-filled residence to search for her. When Captain Nothstein arrived he found DeFuso with the semi-conscious victim. Their efforts to remove the victim were hampered by large amounts of debris. They carried her over the debris and out to safety.
Firefighter James Darvell
Firefighter Zack Montone
Lt. Michael Radjavitch
Freeland Fire Department
Firefighter Colby Bognar
Capt. Joseph Minzola
Assistant Chief Kevin Tarapchak
Valley Regional Fire and Rescue
When fire crews arrived on scene at a large three-story double home in the snowy early morning hours of December 11, they were greeted by heavy smoke and fire. Residents of one side of the home had gotten out, but no one had seen the man who lived on the other side. Firefighters searched the first floor but were turned back on the steps to the second floor by fire coming down the hallway. As firefighters worked on knocking down the fire, the rescue team made their way past them to continue their search. They found the victim in the bedroom and carried him out through extreme conditions to the waiting EMS crew. Despite their courageous efforts, he later succumbed to his severe injuries.
Deputy Chief Richard Lindsey
Firefighter Sarah Lindsey
Freeland Fire Company
When firefighters were called to a raging fire at an abandoned building in Freeland in the early morning hours of October 15, they found that flames had leapt to the attic of a neighboring home. Three
people were trapped inside. The father-daughter team entered the home and quickly brought out a couple who was on the first floor, but the man's 98-year-old mother was trapped on the second floor, close to the fire. They went back in and made their way to the second floor without the protection of a hose line, with heavy smoke and heat banking down from the attic to the lower floors. They found the woman and carried her down the steps backward through rapidly deteriorating conditions to waiting EMS units.
Officer Daniel Parks
Officer Harry Prey
Eastern Pike Regional Police Department
Officers Parks and Prey were on patrol on a frigid February night in Matamoras when they heard a call for a structure fire with entrapment. When they arrived at the home they found smoke billowing out of the windows and roof, and two disabled people trapped inside. The fire department had not yet arrived and the fire was escalating quickly. They entered the smoke-filled home and brought out the female occupant. After catching their breath, they went back in for the male occupant. They found him sitting in a chair, disoriented. The smoke was so thick all they could see were his lower legs. They carried them both to the warmth and safety of the patrol car while the fire department extinguished the flames.
Lt. Kevin Baer
Allentown Fire Department
Lt. Baer was first on the scene of a house fire on Tioga Street in May. A large amount of smoke was pouring off the back of the house. When Lt. Baer learned that an elderly woman was trapped inside, he entered the home through a rear door and climbed the steps to the kitchen, which was directly over the fire. There he found the woman on the floor. He carried her down the steps and out the rear door to the paramedics. He knew had he not acted immediately she would not have survived the fire.
Firefighter and paramedic, St. Luke's EMS
Jeff Kosalko was off duty and on his way home from his cabin at Lily Lake when he spotted smoke coming from a garage behind a home. He banged on the door and ran to the garage when he learned the 80-year-old homeowner was working there. He entered the smoke-filled garage with no gear, opened the doors to clear the smoke and used a garden hose to douse the flames. Sadly, the man did not survive his horrific burns but his family was extremely grateful that Kosalko was able to extinguish the fire and stay with him until help arrived.
Sgt. James Hedrick
Firefighter Joshua Paul
Firefighter Ryan Noll
Firefighter/paramedic Ryan Trexler
Exeter Township Fire Department
Around 7:30 on a March morning, Sgt. Hedrick and firefighter Paul were refueling when they received a call for a structure fire with entrapment. A man had been cooking in his kitchen and had passed out while on the phone with 911. When they arrived they could see the fire and smoke through the rear of the single-family home, but had difficulty entering because the doors were nailed shut. After breaking through, Paul began a search for the victim and found him lying on the kitchen floor. Paul called for assistance, and they carried the unconscious man out through thick black smoke and heat. Uncertain whether additional people were in the home, Trexler, Noll and Paul went back in to search for others while Hedrick assisted the victim. The man's wife and children were not home at the time, and he was extremely grateful to the firefighters who carried him to safety.
Firefighter Mark Cuttic
Firefighter David Malloy
Capt. Stephen Oravitz
Firefighter Scott Taylor
Friendship Fire Company #1, Englewood
Four members of the Friendship Fire Company Rapid Intervention Team (RIT) were on scene at a massive fire in Mount Carmel when they heard a mayday call for a firefighter down. Conditions were rapidly deteriorating. They followed the sound of the PASS alarm and eventually discovered the motionless body of the fallen firefighter under debris in a bathroom. Flames were nearing his head and
upper body, and he wasn't breathing. The team struggled to free him and get him out of the building
quickly, where medical teams administered CPR to the fallen firefighter. Firefighters from five counties fought the fire that destroyed seven homes, but thanks to the steadfast work of the Friendship RIT, did not claim any lives.
Partners in Prevention Award
Former chief, West Hazleton Fire Company, Hazleton, Pa.
Bob Ward was a firefighter for nearly 40 years before retiring in 2011. He was such a firm believer in prevention that whenever there was a fire in the community, he felt the firefighters failed because they were unable to prevent the fire. One of Ward's goals was to bring a fire safety house to the Hazleton area. He worked tirelessly to fund his dream with aluminum can collections, corporate donations and a Pennsylvania state grant. The fire safety house is now used by all fire companies in the greater Hazleton and outlying areas.
Ward's fire safety education programs begin in preschool classrooms with Bert and Ernie puppets and continue throughout the community. He is still active in fire safety education and prevention, and is a Pennsylvania state local level fire/rescue instructor.
Fire chief and financial secretary, East Derry Fire Company
Former State Fire Commissioner of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
Ed Mann began his life as a firefighter when he joined the Logan Fire Company in Centre County in 1977. He served as an instructor in the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy and was appointed as the fourth Pennsylvania State Fire Commission by then-governor Tom Ridge in 2000. Mann served under Governors Ridge, Schweiker, Rendell and Corbett before leaving the post earlier this year.
During his time as fire commissioner, Mann received numerous awards and recognition for his commitment to the fire service. Much of his energy has been directed toward reducing firefighter deaths. He was awarded the Firefighter Life Safety Seal of Excellence by the National Fallen Firefighter Foundation for the line of duty death prevention program, "Courage to be safe…so everyone goes home," implemented in Pennsylvania and across the country. Mann's motto has always been "Be safe for your family's sake" and he was responsible for the "Everyone goes home" campaign kicked off in 2005. He believes in the power of education to prevent firefighter deaths and has been a tireless advocate for fire prevention programs.