PA Firefighters Honored for Dramatic Rescue

Becky Metrick

pennlive.com

(MCT)

Ronald Troxell doesn’t remember much about the fire that almost killed him.

In fact, all he knows is that on Aug. 3, after he heard the smoke alarm from his second-story bedroom, he decided to try to crawl to safety. The next thing he remembers was waking up at Lehigh Valley Hospital’s burn unit nearly 24 hours later.

This is why it was so special for him to help give awards Tuesday night to the 17 first responders who worked together to save him.

Although Mechanicsburg Fire Department was the lead command on the fire, which started around 5:50 p.m. at a duplex in the 400 block of West Simpson Street, first responders from three other companies and a civilian were honored during the ceremony at the Mechanicsburg Council Chamber.

Among the awards given out were distinguished unit citations for company teamwork, medals of bravery, life-saving medals and the highest honor, two medals of valor.

The rescue

The two medal of valor recipients, Savannah Toddes and James Archer, might be young but they relied heavily on their training when they realized they had found the victim inside the home.

The two were part of a crew searching the home that was quickly filling with black, combustible smoke, that was already lingering relatively low, Mechanicsburg Fire Chief Gary Neff described during the ceremony.

Civilian Rescue: The Reason We Exist

Toddes, 22, remembers checking the living room, then turning to go into the kitchen when she noticed the stairs. On the stairs was a man, wearing cargo shorts, she remembered.

Toddes said the moment was kind of surreal.

“I knew there was a victim in there, but then once I found him, it just kind of took me a second, like this isn’t a dummy, this isn’t training, it’s the real thing,” Toddes said. But she quickly snapped into action, calling Archer and the others to help her.

Archer, just 19, was working his first official fire as a full-fledged firefighter that day.

The group had to pull him across the floor, essentially through two rooms, Toddes said. First, it was getting him down 4-5 steps, then through the rooms until they got onto the porch.

While all of this was happening, Toddes – who also has EMT training – said she noticed Troxell wasn’t “breathing effectively,” which she said told them that every second counted, and they needed to work even harder.

She couldn’t be sure, but she said it felt like the entire rescue took all of two minutes.

Archer said all he could think about was his training, and that he knew the rescue would require teamwork, that everyone was putting in the work to get the man out alive.

But this is where Neff says the stars really had to align to keep Troxell alive.

Because of a serious but separate incident about 20 minutes away, all the companies were a little jumbled. West Shore Fire Department had one of its crews first on the scene and they helped inside the home during the initial fire attack. Aan ambulance with Silver Spring Township that was covering for crews assigned elsewhere happened to be a block away and decided to respond despite not being called.

Finally, a neighbor from behind the duplex, Dr. Richard Luley, a UPMC Emergency Room doctor, decided to see what was going on and jumped into action when he saw the medics working on Troxell. It is because of these efforts that Luley was the only civilian to receive an award, the life-saving medal.

“My job was to assist them, they were really leading the charge,” Luley said. He knew the medics knew what they were doing, he said, adding that he just reinforced their work.

He considered himself an extra pair of hands as they worked to keep the oxygen mask on Troxell all the way to Holy Spirit Hospital.

Luley didn’t think too hard about it, he said. He just acted.

Chief Neff went down the line, sharing each of these stories and more during the ceremony, making sure that everyone understood how such an intricate puzzle came together for the life-saving outcome.

Recovery

Troxell was in the hospital for two weeks in the burn unit, with the main concerns for him being his lungs.

His left lung had more soot in it than his right, and he said for a good 10 days he was bringing it back up, trying to eject it from his body.

“You could tell when it came up. It also tasted very nasty,” Troxell said.

Luckily, even the doctors were impressed with how his lungs healed and overall that he was able to skip certain procedures that he didn’t want, but everything from talking to eating took time for him to get back.

He now is still feeling some of the impacts of being intubated for days, with his voice sometimes giving out when he’s been talking too much and he runs out of breath.

It took him some time, but he has been able to piece back together what happened to him.

Troxell had to go back to the duplex to see if any of his possessions were salvageable, and he said the whole thing was very uncomfortable at first. His roommate needed to be the one to give him the extra “umph” to go up by himself, and later he was able to go alone.

The duplex has now been sold, and Troxell is staying with a co-worker while he figures out his next steps.

Troxell called Tuesday’s ceremony a blessing, getting to meet all of the people who helped give him his life back.

“I could have been gone,” Troxell said. “I basically would have been just a body, going into the ground with my spirit lifting up.”

But he agreed with Chief Neff that the stars were aligned to help him.

“There is a blessing there and [God] wasn’t done with me yet,” Troxell said.

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