Two men saving dozens of fellow passengers on their charter bus, children rescuing family and friends, firefighters putting their lives on the line—these were just some of the heroes honored at the annual Fire Department Commendations and Promotional Ceremony this week.
The recipients "made the difference between life and death," said Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz.
“It really takes extraordinary courage for anyone to take those kinds of responsibility and risk for total strangers," Kamenetz said of firefighters and residents alike. "But to choose this as a career, and to confront those challenges every time you go to work, it really requires a truly special character of a person.
“It’s never just a day at the office," he added. "It’s heroism of the highest order.”
The 2012 Commendations Award winners:
Citizen's Medal of Honor
The most distinguished award presented Tuesday night went to Owings Mills resident Patrick Griffin and Carlos Wise of Baltimore.
The two men saved at least 50 passengers on a charter bus on April 20, 2011, after the bus driver began suffering from seizure-like symptoms, collapsing at the wheel.
Griffin and Wise ran to the driver's seat and worked as a team—one taking the wheel, the other pushing on the brake by hand.
The bus was traveling at highway speeds along Interstate 695 between Perring Parkway and Loch Raven Boulevard.
A fire department spokeswoman said the Citizen's Medal of Honor is "awarded to persons who render service to the citizens of Baltimore County by saving, or attempting to save, persons from death or serious injury by fire or accident, at the risk of serious injury to themselves." She went on to call the award "rare."
Griffin said he only wants to find out how the driver is doing.
Firefighter Michael Murphy saved his brother's life while battling the blaze that ravaged the Charles Village Pub in January 2011.
Murphy's brother, a fellow firefighter, had to be dragged to safety after falling down inside the burning building at 19 West Pennsylvania Ave.
The Bronze Star was the highest award given to a firefighter Tuesday night.
Citizen's Certificate of Merit
- Pool instructor Debbie June Warner rescued a woman who was drowning due to cardiac arrest on March 25, 2011. The victim had a seizure while in the pool at the Community College of Baltimore County, Catonsville.
- 10-year-old Devin Klaburner saved her father's life after he began showing stroke-like symptons from a pre-existing medical condition. She prevented permanent neurological damage by running to a neighbor's home to call 911 and giving her father the proper medication and comfort until medics arrived.
- North County resident Russell Irvin assisted firefighters in extinguishing a massive hay fire the "size of a house." The local business owner used a front-end loader to spread the hay across an open field, while firefighters worked to quell the flames. It took seven hours, heading into 2 a.m. on Jan. 8 to control the fire.
- Natalie Phyall, a fourth grader at Villa Cresta Elementary School in Parkville, performed the Heimlich Maneuver on a friend and classmate after the student began choking on food during lunch.
- 6-year-old Noelle Nivens, of Woodlawn, called 911 after finding her diabetic grandfather unconcious in his bed.
Departmental Unit Citations
Incident: Towson-based firefighters rescued a man dangling from a high-rise on April 14, 2011. A window washer was trapped by his harness, after falling 40 feet, between the ninth and 10th floors of a building located at 800 Sutherly Road in Towson.
Recipients: Capt. Robert Seigle, Firefighter Nick Saylor, Fire specialist Robert Biggs.
Incident: Firefighters in the Dundalk area saved two businesses from being completely destroyed on Nov. 6, 2011. The fire was fed by natural gas with about 75 gallons of vegetable oil and dry goods fueling the fire. Crews pumped 1,480 gallons of water a minute to save a pizza shop and law office at 7444 Holabird Ave. The businesses were up and running two days later.
Recipients: Acting Battalion Chief Capt. Eric Endryas, Fire director Charles Rogers, Fire Apparatus Driver Operator (FADO) Eric Stacharowski, Lt. Jeffrey Bowen, Capt. Thomas Kimbel, Lt. Buddy Meadows, FADO Glen Freund, Fire specialist Scott Jackson, Paramedic/firefighter Kevin George, FADO John Medinger, Firefighter John Bomman, Firefighter Robert Klein, Firefighter/EMT Samuel Valencia, Lt. Ryan Santmyer, EMT/Firefighter Justin Bruzdinski.
Incident: Firefighters worked in teams to rescue two workers, trapped after a trench collapse in the Stevenson area of the county (2923 Wood Valley Drive.). One of the workers was trapped up to his waist in the trench. Crews, working in 100 degree heat on Aug. 1, 2011, managed to quickly pull the men from the trench. The victims were released from the hospital two days later without serious injury.
Recipients: Capt. Todd Gibney , FADO Robert Fogle III, EMT/ firefighter Justin Hadel, Capt. Charles Tudor III, FADO Gary Rickrode , Capt. Glenn Resnick, Firefighter Troy Hipsley, FADO Michael Fox, Fire specialist Chrisopher Rossi, Paramedic Harvey Sindler, Paramedic/firefighter Richard Lyons, EMT Angel Torain, EMS Lt. David Snyder, EMT/firefighter Brandon Watkins , Sgt. Sam Kroll.
Incident: Firefighters prevented what could've been catastrophe for two homeowners in the 7600 block of Carson Avenue in the eastern section of the county. A one-alarm house fire, quickly escalated into a two-alarm fire, after extending into a neighbor's home.
“Quick actions by both crews limited damage to the dwellings,” said one of the presenters.
Recipients: Capt. Francis DiPaula Jr., FADO Alvin Stewart Sr., Fire special Eric Cole, Lt. William Stump, FADO Keith Kuhn, FADO John Ritz, Fire specialist John Greaver.
Incident: Police officers saved a man having a heart attack in the 2600 block of Larchmont Drive by performing
Recipients: Sgt. Kyle Blackburn, Officer Ken Shields, Officer Ryan Anderson, Officer Joseph Conway.
Catonsville Fire specialist Eric M. Needle was awarded the Purple Heart after taking a harrowing spill down a flight of stairs inside of a burning house.
The fire was fed by gas coming from the basement of a home in the Alletta and Nelway avenues area of Lansdowne-Baltimore Highlands.
Needle lost his footing after attempting to quickly evacuate the home, fell down a flight of stairs and wound up with "his right leg behind him," the presenter said.
After extensive surgery and four months of recovery, Needle managed to limp across the stage at Goucher College Tuesday night to accept his award.
Distinguished Service Award
Pauline Kalwa accepted the award for her late father-in-law William A. Kalwa—a volunteer firefighter of over 40 years.
“The fire department meant a great deal to my father-in-law. He was a member of Wise Avenue for 40 years. ... He would’ve been so proud. We would’ve had to put another hole in the wall to hang up this award,” she said.
Kalwa passed away a few months ago.
In addition to the service awards, 37 firefighting professionals were promoted to higher ranks.