Nominees Announced for 2015 Ray Downey Courage and Valor Award

The following candidates have been nominated for the 2015 Ray Downey Courage and Valor award. The presentation of the award to the winning nominee will be made on Wednesday, April 22, at the Opening Ceremony (8:00 a.m.-10 a.m.) of the 2015 Fire Department Instructors Conference International in Indianapolis. The candidates are listed according to the name of the responding fire department in alphabetical order.


Firefighter/EMT Eric Jensen

Years in the fire service: 18½

Firefighter/EMT Kyle Bovy

Years in the fire service: 4, part-time

On April 26, 2014, at 1817 hours, Cedar Falls (IA) Fire Rescue was dispatched for a residential structure fire with one person trapped. The department responded with minimum department staffing levels on two engines and a rescue truck. Law Enforcement on scene reported heavy smoke issuing from the dwelling and confirmed that a person was trapped inside and pleading for help. Law Enforcement and a neighbor made several attempts to save the occupant; however, the extreme heat and smoke conditions forced them to wait for the firefighters’ arrival.

One minute before the fire department arrived on scene, Law Enforcement reported that the trapped occupant no longer could be heard. Firefighter Eric Jensen was the acting officer on Engine (E)-501; Firefighter Kyle Bovy was the tail-boarder. Battalion Chief Roger Stensland arrived separately in Rescue 540 at the same time as E-501.

Stensland immediately instructed E-1’s crew to report to the rear of the structure for search and rescue operations. On arrival, E-503’s Engineer Kurt Eichelberger began stretching a hoseline to the rear of the building as Jensen and Bovy were making entry. They encountered heavy black smoke issuing from the rear door and, without the benefit of a hoseline, entered the structure despite high heat and zero visibility. These life-threatening conditions were compounded by the presence of an extraordinary amount of the occupant’s belongings that limited their movements to maneuvering a maze of narrow pathways. After searching for several minutes, Jensen and Bovy found the unconscious occupant. They removed him from the structure and handed him off to paramedics on scene. The victim made a full recovery after undergoing months of rehabilitation.


Lieutenant (Ret.) Ted Eck

Years in the fire service: 35 years

I submit for consideration an individual whose performance defines what it means to be a firefighter. I cannot begin to imagine how many people were helped or still live because of his dedication to the service of others.

I have had access only to stories told by fellow firefighters who served with him. He embodies what it is to be a firefighter and never shows any sign of egotism, does not flaunt his position, is not in love with himself, and does not consider himself to be the best. He loves his job with a passion I rarely see in individuals.

At the end of these 24 hours, he returns home to his seven kids and resumes the normalcy of fatherhood. He loves is children and wife, and his kids could not have asked to be given a better role model of what it is to be an honorable man.

I ask not that he be considered a winner of this award; there are undoubtedly many heroic deeds to be considered. I would just like him to know that for many he is a hero. I know he would cringe at that. Every individual firefighter, career or volunteer, answers a call that few individuals can. They have hearts etched with a desire to help. They resent being called heroes because to them and Lt. Eck, it was just a run and it was just their job.


Battalion Chief Ryan Sekerski

Years in the fire service: 29 years

On June 3, 2014, the driver of a tractor trailer gasoline tanker braked the vehicle to avoid striking a stopped school bus on State Route 27 in Plum Township, Venango County. He lost control, and the truck went off the road and struck a utility pole, rolled over, and burst into flames. The driver was trapped in the cab; the truck lay on the driver’s side.

Battalion Chief Ryan Sekerski was nearing the end of his workday at his full-time job at a wastewater treatment plant when he began hearing sirens. He switched on his radio and heard the calls of a tanker truck crash with a possible entrapment. On his way home, he decided to stop at the scene to see if help was needed. The crash had occurred along the route he would take home.

He arrived on scene around 4:30 p.m., about 40 minutes after the tanker had hit the pole. It was in flames, and gasoline was spilling onto the roadside. The driver was still in the burning truck. First-responding departments were having difficulty establishing a sustainable water supply and with the extreme heat of the fast-fueled fire. Sekerski donned the spare set of turnout gear he kept in his personal vehicle. He climbed on the truck and looked inside. He saw the driver. He asked if the driver was alright. The driver said yes but that he was stuck. The roof was pinned down on his head and chest. He couldn’t move.

Sekerski called for a saw and generator. One of the firefighters gave him a saw. He crawled up inside; at the same time, the inside of the cab was starting to burn. Sekerski covered the driver with a coat to shield him from the glass of the broken rear window. After about 10 minutes, the driver was freed. Sekerski walked with him to EMS personnel.


Firefighter Matthew J. Monahan

Years in the fire service: 8

At approximately 0140 hours on March 8, 2014, Volunteer Firefighter Matthew Monahan was traveling west on Rt. 454, just east of the intersection of Routes 454 and 347. He came upon a single-car motor vehicle accident. The car was sitting its side, and fire was coming from the engine compartment. A witness informed Monahan that someone was trapped in the vehicle. He rushed to the vehicle, lying on the drive side, and determined that a victim was in the driver’s seat. He made contact with her. She was conscious and alert but was badly injured and could not move. Monahan reassured her that he would get her out of the car.

At this time, a second bystander, Joseph Moscato, arrived with a handheld fire extinguisher. Moscato attempted to extinguish the flames while Monahan tried to kick out the windshield. Both were unsuccessful, and the victim was beginning to panic. She told Monahan that she thought she was going to die. He assured her that he would not leave without getting her out.

The fire was entering the passenger compartment. Monahan asked Moscato if there was anything left in the extinguisher to push the fire back and give Monahan enough time to grab and pull the victim out. Moscato tried one more shot; it was just enough to allow Monahan to try to pull the victim to safety. He accomplished this just as the interior of the vehicle burst into flames. Monahan, assisted by bystanders, moved the victim to a safe distance from the vehicle and tended to her injuries until medical help arrived.

The victim was transported to the hospital with numerous injuries including a compound fracture of her ankle and several fractured vertebrae and ribs. The vehicle was fully involved when the fire department arrived.


FIRE & EMERGENCY SERVICES, Susquehanna, Pennsylvania

Firefighter Joseph A. McGillin

Years in the fire service: 14

On July 31, 2014, The DLA Fire & Emergency Services, Susquehanna, Pennsylvania, Truck 69 was dispatched to assist one of our mutual-aid partners with a reported dwelling fire. While en route to the scene, an update from York County 911 Dispatch advised that the caller saw smoke coming from the residence, opened the front door, and saw flames. Police were the first to arrive. They found smoke showing and confirmed a “working fire.”

Truck 69, the first-arriving special service and second-arriving unit overall, arrived several minutes behind Tanker 68, which had only a driver (lieutenant) and a junior firefighter. The truck noted light and “lazy” smoke visible from the eaves on side A. The fire building was a two-story townhome of wood-frame construction and the second from the end in a row of six. The lieutenant in the tanker secured a water source, stretched a handline to the front door, charged the line, and was waiting for the next company to arrive before making entry.

Police advised fire personnel that someone may be inside the fire building, since an occupant’s car was parked out front. Further, neighbors believed the occupants of the attached exposure on the D side were still inside. No one was seen exiting either residence since the fire was found and reported. With the above information, McGillin exited the truck and prepared to force entry into the fire building and search for trapped occupants. McGillin was riding in the Force position. He and the company officer, Captain Weiss, made up the truck’s two-person interior crew.

While sizing up the front entry door, McGillin noted a key in the knob and blistering of the paint on the upper portion of the door/door jamb. On opening the door, he encountered thick smoke banked to the floor and moderate to high heat. The lieutenant from Tanker 68 began to advance a charged handline through the front door. McGillin and Weiss followed. Visibility was almost nonexistent. Several feet inside, McGillin realized the lieutenant had ceased progressing forward. In that moment, he also noted fire, which was separating them, surrounding the lieutenant. Seeing this, McGillin called for the line to be opened. The lieutenant from Tanker 68 replied that he was unable to do so because he had fallen through the floor. McGillin immediately crawled to the lieutenant and found that the lieutenant had fallen partially through the floor, up to his underarms that held him above the basement.

All three firefighters had entered the dwelling under the impression that the fire would be on the first floor, the entry floor. Actually, they were all operating directly over a basement fire that had consumed several 2- × 10-inch dimensional lumber joists, the subflooring, and the flooring and that had extended into the first floor.

McGillin reached through the flames in an effort to extricate the trapped lieutenant. Anticipating McMillan’s actions, Weiss was able to locate the dropped nozzle and apply water to the flames enveloping the other two. As McGillin was focusing 100 percent on his effort pulling, the lieutenant found footing on a shelving unit in the basement below. Together, and with great combined physical effort, the lieutenant was removed from his precarious position and assisted into the front yard. The lieutenant’s SCBA and structural turnout gear sustained significant heat damage from direct flame contact but did not fail. Despite being temporarily enveloped in flame, neither the lieutenant nor McGillin suffered thermal burns of any significant injury. The lieutenant incurred a muscular skeletal injury to his knee.

After ensuring the lieutenant was okay and knowing the fire was not yet controlled, McGillin returned to the front door. He relieved Weiss of the handline, freeing him to continue searching, and proceeded to extinguish the main body of fire. From the relative safety of the doorway, McGillin was able to keep the fire from spreading beyond the point at which it was involved on the fire department’s arrival. He maintained control of the front door and provided a necessary human barrier, isolating the hole in the floor so that no other firefighters would fall through it. McGillin kept the fire checked until a second handline was advanced through the exposed basement on side C and facilitated final extinguishment.


Firefighter/Apparatus Driver Michael Fisher

Years in the fire service: 10

Captain Cory Kasacek

Canterbury (CT) Fire Department

Years in the fire service: 23

Firefighter Roger “RJ” Miles

Scotland (CT) Fire Department

Windham Center ((CT) Fire Department

Years in the fire service: 5

Firefighter Christopher Sean McVean

Years in the fire service: 13

At approximately 2324 hours on April 1, 2014, the Scotland (CT) Fire Department was dispatched to a residential dwelling fire. Resident Richard Kulhawy returned home from work to find heavy smoke issuing from the eaves of the structure and called 911.

Captain Cory Kasacek, past chief and captain of the responding mutual-aid Canterbury (CT) Fire Department arrived in his personal vehicle and was the first firefighter on scene. Occupant Kulhawy met him at the driveway and told him his wife was still inside a second-floor bedroom. Kulhawy had communicated with his wife, who said she could not exit from her bedroom. Kasacek, who was wearing his personal protective turnout gear, approached the rear of the dwelling with the resident and noted flames venting from the sliding glass doors to a second-story deck. Kulhawy told the chief that the deck was off the second-floor bedroom where he believed his wife was trapped. Kasacek, without a self-contained breathing apparatus, entered the structure alone and was immediately met by smoke banked down to head level. Kulhawy showed Kasacek with a flashlight where the stairs leading to the second floor were; at the top of the stairs, heavy flames were venting out the sliding doors, preventing entry to or exit from the bedroom.

The second floor was a loft. Extending from the loft over the “great room” was a catwalk that led to the B side full-length windows. Kasacek saw the separated 10-foot fly section of a 20-foot aluminum extension ladder that was inside the residence and being used for a paining project. He threw it up against the catwalk railing and ascended the ladder. The dense smoke that had banked down below the catwalk blocked his vision. He called to the trapped resident. She had crawled from her bedroom through a short hallway to the beginning of the catwalk but couldn’t go any farther. At this point, high heat and dense smoke forced Kasacek to descend the ladder. He advised the just-arriving Engine 116 crew of the situation.

Three members of the engine’s first-in crew were bringing in a handline through a door on the A side of the first floor to begin suppression efforts when Kasacek yelled to the incoming crew that a woman was trapped on the second floor. He then retreated for outside air. The husband yelled to the crew that his wife was trapped on the catwalk just above their location.

Nozzleman RJ Miles and Firefighter/Apparatus Driver Michael Fisher set aside their suppression assignment to pick up the rescue effort initiated by Kasacek. Miles ascended the ladder, going up and over the catwalk railing. With zero visibility, he made contact with the trapped woman, who had crawled another three feet from the now well-involved bedroom. Fisher had now ascended the ladder, and both firefighters made their way to the woman. They moved the nearly unresponsive resident to the apex of the ladder when the superheated smoke began to flash intermittently. Miles yelled below for immediate additional assistance and suppressive efforts just as debris from above began to fall. A second handline was being advanced into the dwelling and Nozzleman Sean McVean ascended the ladder under rapidly deteriorating conditions, passing off the nozzle to Firefighter James Meikle. With debris falling, high-heat conditions, and a now very vocal burn victim, the three firefighters threw themselves over the woman and protected her from a falling ceiling fan and flaming ceiling insulation. To try to cool the “flame-over,” Kasecek, still without an SCBA, joined Meikle and began to apply the first water on the flames emanating from the second-floor bedroom hallway, going over the heads of the victim and the three firefighters. At this time, long, steady siren activation occurred outside the structure. The three rescuers heard it. It was learned during post-incident debriefing that they thought it was a warning that a full defensive operation was about to begin, which would have made the rescue efforts even more urgent. However, the siren activation was inadvertent.

By this time, McVean had gone back over the railing and was at the top of the ladder. Miles and Fisher picked up the now near-unresponsive victim and lay her across McVean’s arms, which were firmly gripping the ladder rails. In zero visibility and with hot debris and water raining down on the three rescuers, McVean quickly descended the ladder, balancing the victim in his arms. He exited the structure to an awaiting paramedic and ambulance crew just outside the dwelling. The 51-year-old victim was transported to the hospital and then airlifted to a burn center. She remained there for a little over three weeks recovering from burns to her back, legs, and throat.


Captain Cody Smoot

Years in the fire service: 6

On the morning of November 9, 2014, the Teays Valley (WV) Fire Department was alerted to a working structure fire with potential victims trapped inside. The on-duty crew of Captain Cody Smoot and Firefighter Corey Carr donned their personal protective equipment and began their response. They received constant updates while en route. Putnam County dispatchers advised of a large column of smoke, and 911 dispatchers transmitted that as many as six occupants were still unaccounted for. Engine (E) 71 filled the first-alarm assignment. On arrival, E71 found a mobile home with fire extending from sides B and D; neighbors were reporting that two children were unaccounted for. Chief 701 arrived shortly behind E71 and ordered a the placing of a 1¾-inch line through side D for a transitional attack to protect exposure D. Smoot immediately transmitted to Chief 701 that victims were trapped and the on-duty crews were going to make a push inside to locate the victims.

Chief 701 then adjusted the attack strategy for interior operations. Concerned for the interior conditions, post-flashover stages, he ordered the attack line be charged and begin flowing to cool the environment while protecting the firefighters from horizontal fire spread. Once Carr was able to open the nozzle and begin the cooling process, Smoot crawled through the high heat and zero visibility toward the last known location of the victims, the bedroom.

He found a nine-year-old male in the end bedroom on the floor at the end of the bed. He handed the child through a window to law enforcement and emergency medical services personnel through the window that had been taken for vent-enter-search, which was not used because of fire conditions. The time documented was 1102 hours.

E71’s officer, Smoot, returned to the hallway and proceeded to the second bedroom. He found a three-year-old female wrapped around the bed’s footboard. He handed the child to E72’s firefighter, who removed the child to the exterior. The documented time was 1104 hours.

The rescue captain and firefighter were exposed to zero visibility, extreme temperatures, and direct flame impingement. After the fire attack and primary search were concluded, the officer and firefighter assigned to E71 had experienced severe thermal insult in operating conditions and to their PPE, which had to be replaced, as well as a bailout pack that had melted to the firefighter’s SCBA harness.

Both children were transported to the hospital. Their heart rates returned during resuscitative efforts. Both eventually succumbed as a result of exposure to fire products.


Captain Sean Killelea

In the fire service since 1999


On the evening of August 5, 2014, the New Carlisle (IN) Fire Department responded to a reported commercial fire in Willis Township, Indiana. There was heavy fire on arrival, and a defensive attack was initiated. Acting Chief Jamie Middlebrook and Firefighter Matt O’Donnell stretched a 2½-inch handline with a ground monitor into the attached exposure to try to protect numerous acetylene cylinders. They did not know that the fire was in the truss space above the pan ceiling. The truss system failed, trapping Middlebrook and injuring O’Donnell.

Warren Township Fire Department’s Squad 18 and a box chief on a commercial fire responded as mutual aid. Squad 18 Captain Sean Killelea and Firefighters Jay Pendergrass and Aaron Carsten were assigned to staff an attack line in the ongoing defensive operations. Command rescinded the assignment and instructed them to follow the hoseline already advanced into the building to respond to a call for two firefighters trapped inside the structure following a collapse.

They followed the hoseline up to the edge of the collapse. The east wall of the collapse was fully involved in fire. They followed the hoseline until they encountered the collapse. Killelea and his crew battled horrific conditions. The building was coming down around them. They were surrounded by fire and collapse and, at one point, were forced to take cover under a truck in a barn to avoid being caught in a further collapse. Killelea and his crew were able to locate O’Connell, who was pulled to the door with the help of New Carlisle Engine 191. Chief Middlebrook, however, was under the roof system that had fallen on him. After the fire condition was sufficiently knocked down, heavy equipment removed the roof system from the chief’s body, which was removed to an ambulance.


Firefighter Charles Ryan

Years in the fire service: 14

In 2011, he was severely burned on 40 percent of his body. The fire was caused by arson. He saved his partner in that fire. He has saved numerous citizens over the years.

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