FDIC International, Fire EMS, Firefighting, Technical Rescue

FDIC 2013: Introducing the Courage and Valor Nominees

Once again, the nominees for the 2013 Ray Downey Courage and Valor Award reflect the ultimate in courage, selflessness, professionalism, competence, and initiative and continue to reflect the reputation and ideals of the fire service. Profiles of the nominees are presented below.

The finalist will be announced and presented with the Ray Downey Courage and Valor Medal and award by PennWell CEO Robert F. Biolchini; Fire Department of New York Battalion Chiefs Joe and Chuck Downey, Fire Department of New York, sons of Ray Downey; and National Fallen Firefighters Foundation Executive Director Ron Siarnicki and National Fire Academy Alumni Association Chief Ron Kanterman, members of the Selection Committee. The ceremony will take place at the FDIC 2013 Opening Ceremony on Wednesday, April 24, 2013, 8:00 a.m.-10:00 a.m., Sagamore Ballroom 1-7, Indiana Convention Center.

The nominees, listed alphabetically according to their last names, follow. 

FIREFIGHTER FRANCIS X. CHENEY

PHILADELPHIA (PA) FIRE DEPARTMENT

On July 4, 2012, Cheney, working overtime, responded as the second-due engine company to a reported residential dwelling fire with a possible occupant trapped. The first-arriving engine reported a two-story middle-of-the-row dwelling with smoke showing and a confirmed occupant trapped on the second floor.

When Cheney’s engine arrived, he was told to search the second floor because the ladder company was delayed. Cheney proceeded up the stairs in zero visibility and heard the occupant choking on the smoke. He located her in the rear bedroom.

Without hesitation, he removed his self-contained breathing apparatus face piece and placed it on the victim’s face; he dragged her down the steps to the front lawn to awaiting EMS units. The victim was transported to the hospital and treated and released. Cheney was transported and was confined to the hospital overnight. Later, Cheney donated his overtime earnings to the victim and her family to help them recover from the economic effects of the fire.

LIEUTENANT RONALD R. CORSALE

FIRE DEPARTMENT OF NEW YORK

On July 5, 2012, at 07600 hours, Corsale, on Ladder 16 (L-16), responded first due to the East River/FDR Drive at 73rd Street, where a man was reported to be in the water. Per company standard operating procedure, the members gathered equipment in quarters and two firefighters donned cold water rescue suits en route. Corsale donned his personal flotation device while responding. Rescue Boat 1(acting as spotter from Roosevelt Island) confirmed a victim approximately 50 yards north of where the engine and ladder were positioned. A building separated the pedestrian path from the water’s edge. Several fences obstructed access to the catwalk along the bulkhead.

L-16 members began forcing entry through two fences and assembled water rescue equipment. Corsale heard the victim’s cries for help. He quickly scaled the two fences south of the building to confirm the victim’s location along the seawall, intending to establish verbal and visual contact with the victim and assure him that help was on the way. Finding a narrow catwalk along a chain-link fence on the edge of the seawall, Corsale gripped the fence with both hands and  made his way along the seawall to the victim’s location.

The male victim was holding onto a vine; the strong northern current was rapidly weakening him. He was pleading for help and was having difficulty keeping his head above the water. Corsale reassured the victim and radioed his location and the victim’s status over his portable radio.

Realizing that additional personnel and equipment would be delayed, Corsale made a calculated decision to enter the river because of the victim’s rapidly deteriorating state. He lowered himself from the catwalk fence to the East River, approached the victim from behind and reached under his arms to support his upper body, and calmed him.

Per megaphone instructions from L-16, Corsale let the current take him and the victim about 100 feet to the north, keeping the victim in his grasp and maintaining their heads above water. The ladder apparatus extended the water rescue torpedo to Corsale, and portable ladders were dropped into position. Corsale grabbed the last rung of a ladder with one arm while maintaining the torpedo and the victim in his other arm. A Fire Department of New York Police Department Emergency Service Unit officer was maintaining a grip on the victim and attempted to restrain him by pinning an arm behind his back. The victim began to struggle to keep his head above water. Additional safety lines were thrown to Corsale to ensure that the current did not pull him from the seawall.

A second portable ladder, positioned upstream, allowed Corsale to maintain his position. With the help of a firefighter from Rescue 1, who had entered the water, the victim was positioned at the ladder. Corsale supported the exhausted victim and pushed him up the ladder.  Firefighters positioned on the bulkhead pulled the victim to safety and to medical care. Corsale and the other two rescuers were removed from the water. Corsale was later treated at a hospital for minor injuries.

FIREFIGHTER/PM MANNY MORALES

EAST NAPLES (FL) FIRE CONTROL & RESCUE DISTRICT

On February 4, 2012, at approximately 9:30 a.m., Morales was traveling home in uniform after completing his duty shift. While traveling on U.S. Interstate 41, he witnessed a single vehicle rollover crash. The vehicle had struck a guard rail, rolled over, and ended upside down in a swamp.

Morales activated the 911 system and asked bystanders if any occupants of the vehicle had exited the water. Elderly bystanders said they had not seen anyone exit the partially submerged vehicle. Despite having limited swimming abilities, Morales entered the alligator-infested waters. He submerged himself numerous times with no dive or safety gear and searched the SUV. He could not see any victims. As he was submerging for a third time, he saw the hand of a victim and began extricating him from the vehicle. Morales began to sink into the soft murky bottom of the swamp. The victim, bleeding and ashen in color, began to vomit and violently thrash about in the water.

Morales verified that no other victims were inside the SUV. He pulled the victim to shore, removed him from the water, and began patient care. He used an on-scene park ranger’s first aid kit until the fire department arrived.  He continued to coordinate patient care until EMS arrived. The patient had been stabilized and was conscious and alert.

FIREFIGHTER WILLIAM O’CONNELL

STAMFORD (CT) FIRE AND RESCUE DEPARTMENT

On July 22, 2012, at 23:26:29 hours, O’Connell responded on Engine 5 with Rescue 1 to a report of a boating accident in Stamford Harbor. On arrival, it was reported that two people were pulled from the water, one person was missing, and two were trapped in the hull of a capsized vessel, which was floating upside down in the harbor.

The driver of the 27-foot powerboat was navigating his boat, at night, in unfamiliar waters. He misjudged his position in the navigation channel of Stamford Harbor and hit the seawall that separates the harbor and the channel, believing that he was in Long Island Sound. The boat was discovered, capsized, mid-channel, where the depth of the water is approximately 50 feet. Two divers were dispatched to make contact with the trapped individuals. The late hour and the debris in the water resulting from the accident caused visibility below the surface to be minimal.

O’Connell was the third diver in the water. He had a pony bottle to aid in the removal of the two victims in the cabin of the capsized vessel. He located the two victims amid the debris floating in the cabin of the hull. They were huddled together with water up to their necks. They had been trapped  in the water for about 45 minutes and were in the initial stages of hypothermia. Water temperature in the harbor was about 69 degrees F.

O’Connell removed his air supply in an attempt to coach the female occupant to use the scuba regulator and follow him out. Twice, he got stuck while exiting the hull hatchway; he decided to return the female to the safety of the air pocket. He returned to the outside and consulted with Diver 2; they reassessed their action plan.

O’Connell reentered the capsized hull and decided to have the male occupant follow him out first. The occupant was coached on using the regulator and was led to the hull’s hatchway, where Diver 2 was waiting.  Diver 2 led the male occupant to the surface, where he was pulled from the water.

O’Connell exited the water once more to get another pony bottle for the female victim, who was screaming for them to get her out. He reentered the hull for the third time. He removed his mask and noticed his own labored breathing and increased heart rate, recognizing that the air in the cabin was no longer sustainable for breathing. The female was still reluctant to leave the safety of the air pocket and would not be able to swim out while on the pony regulator.

O’Connell exited the boat’s cabin, positioned himself in front of the hatchway door, and reached in to grab her ankle. He pulled her out from the capsized boat’s hull and pushed her to the surface of the water, where Divers 1 and 2 were waiting.

Four of the five victims were rescued. The fifth, a firefighter from New Rochelle, was not. He was later recovered by an outside agency. O’Connell was transp0rted to the Stamford Hospital Emergency Room for treatment for a hand laceration. 

CHIEF MICHAEL QUINT

LITCHFIELD (IL) FIRE DEPARTMENT

On August 2, 2012, a double-decker megabus traveling from Chicago to St. Louis experienced a tire blowout and crashed near Litchfield. The bus was carrying more than 70 passengers when it skidded head-on into the center pillar supporting the overpass. Quint was the third emergency responder to arrive on the scene and assumed command.

State Police estimated that as many as half of the passengers were injured and four to five were trapped and needed extrication. Freeing the passengers took more than an hour, necessitating ladders to free passengers from the top portion of the bus and peeling back the second tier. Ultimately, more than 30 ambulances responded along with seven fire departments. One female passenger was killed. Forty-one passengers were transported, five were airlifted to various hospitals, and the remaining passengers were taken to the Litchfield community center by local school buses.

Quint maintained a steady dialog with numerous agencies during the more than four hours the interstate was closed. He quickly made critical decisions that saved lives.

SERGEANT/FIREFIGHTER EDWARD WAMHOFF,

HOPKINS (MI) AREA FIRE DEPARTMENT

On January 30, 2012, at 15:22 hours, the Hopkins Area Fire Department was dispatched to a single car accident. The SUV had hit an ice patch and landed upside down in the Rabbit River. The driver, a 17-year old female, was inside. The current held the car doors shut, and the driver was unable to exit. She had unbuckled her seat belt and was in the rear of the vehicle in an air pocket.

Wamhoff, who lives about one mile from the scene, responded. On arrival, he determined that the victim was not seriously injured. He entered the water, knowing the departments rescue was en route, and made his way to the car. The water was four feet deep and about 40 degrees.

He was able to get one car door open. He helped the victim out of her car and, with the help of bystanders, got her to the shore. He covered her with blankets, awaiting the arrival of the rescue, which began treatment until the ambulance arrived. The victim was transported to the hospital and was later released.

CAPTAIN JAMES A. WILLIAMSON

PHILADELPHIA (PA) FIRE DEPARTMENT

Williamson was nominated for “epitomizing courage and valor every day.” Despite coming through many traumatic events, he did not lose his drive and enthusiasm or his smile.

In May 1993, he was injured in a building collapse at a fire in a school. He and another firefighter were trapped under burning rubble for more than 20 minutes. He spent months in a burn center in excruciating pain. He underwent numerous skin grafts over his body and yet returned to work in some of the busiest firefighting companies in the city.

Despite the death of his father this year, his daughter’s ongoing battle with brain cancer, suicides and line-of-duty deaths among department members, and other demoralizing issues facing many fire department today, he still goes to work smiling. He uses his skill, knowledge, and his heart to keep his members safe and to continue to accomplish that “job well done.”

DEPUTY CHIEF JIM C. WOLF

JOHNSON CREEK (WI) FIRE & EMS DEPARTMENT

On August 30, 2012, the Johnson Creek Fire & EMS Department responded to a reported building collapse. The site was a newly constructed building. The wood-framed walls were in place on a concrete base, and contractors were in the process of placing large-span wood trusses on top of the walls. The completed building was to be a semi-truck washing facility. On the day of the collapse, the workers were using a crane to get the trusses in place and then secure them one by one. Most of  the trusses were installed on both ends and toward the middle of the building when the collapse occurred.

At about 4:30 p.m., several trusses that were not yet secured at the top of each post collapsed near the middle of the southside of the building (C side). The crew supervisor was struck by a falling truss and rendered unconscious and was lying in a prone position near the wall. His injuries included significant skull fractures and head lacerations with external blood loss. The workers called for  help.

Wolf responded in the first-arriving engine and assumed command. He could see the victim from outside of the structure and requested an air ambulance. He directed incoming crews to assist the EMS personnel in patient care.

Wolf entered the collapse area and conducted a size-up. He immediately recognized the risk to response personnel because the remaining structure was unsound, but he also understood that the victim’s severe injuries required immediate medical attention.  He ensured that everyone, including the paramedic, was suited up in firefighter turnout gear or rescue gear, including helmet. He also donned the specified gear, took another look at the structure, and guided the other responders into the accident scene.

Once in the collapse area, Wolf directed crews to remove the damaged trusses that were on top of the victim. The paramedic directed the firefighters to apply a cervical immobilization device and to backboard the patient. Bandages to stop bleeding were also applied.

Wolf assigned outside personnel to secure the remainder of the building with ropes. Patient emergency care and packaging took only a few minutes. The patient was transported in a helicopter to a Milwaukee hospital. He survived his injuries.

Throughout this incident, Wolf and the responders knew personal injury was possible. They followed the department’s risk model: “Extend vigilant and measured risk to protect and rescue savable lives.”