There were more heroes assembled in the Shock Trauma Center Auditorium here yesterday than in a dozen Marvel Comic books. None wore a cape or mask, but each possessed for a moment the power to save a life.
They were among the 15 individuals and six organizations honored by the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems for their extraordinary efforts in life-saving.
Angela Palmer's moment of challenge came last winter while supervising lunchtime play at Beach Elementary School in North Beach, Calvert County.
Eight-year-old Heather Haas caught her coat sleeve and collar around the top of a sliding board and was strangling. Ms. Palmer ran up the ladder, lowered the unconscious child to the ground and administered cardiopulmonary resuscitation while children called for an ambulance. The child was breathing again by the time help arrived.
"I was always the worst student in CPR and never had to use it," said Ms. Palmer, who has been teaching 17 years. "This was the time I had to do what I could and do it the best I could."
Not the elation of heroism, but the gravity of what might have happened hit her later in the school day. "I was shaken," she recalled. "For months, I couldn't even bear to watch that '911' TV program, but now I can."
"It was like a dream, I just knew I had to get him out of there," said Grant A. Russell, describing how he pulled a trapped motorist from a burning car on Interstate 95 near Columbia last Christmas morning.
His hands bleeding from breaking the window of the wrecked auto, Mr. Russell climbed inside to calm the injured driver. As the fire grew more intense, the rescuer found the strength to pull the much heavier injured driver from the wreck and drag him away. Moments later, the passenger compartment erupted in flames.
"I never thought about being the difference between life and death," said Mr. Russell, of Bethesda, a supermarket worker and a photography student at Montgomery Community College.
The experience has, however, led him to consider offers from fire departments to make a career in emergency medicine, he said.
T. J. Flaherty and his 3-year-old niece, Dana, were watching cartoons on television at her house in Hagerstown in March when the young girl began choking on a piece of candy. T. J., a seventh-grader at Northern Middle School in Hagerstown, saw her lips turn blue and knew he had to do something quick to save her life. "I learned the Heimlich [maneuver] in first grade, and that was what I did," he recalled. Grabbing the child from behind, he forced her to expel the candy after a half-dozen hugs. Dana recovered without requiring medical attention.
After it was over, T. J. said, "she asked for another piece of candy and then I went back home." The hero's role would emerge weeks later, prompting the shy towhead to remark: "It's really neat."
The annual certificates of honor went to civilians and to &r emergency medical professionals for acts of heroism in lifesaving. Eight individuals and organizations were presented with community service awards in emergency medicine.
"This is always a bittersweet occasion," to have these honorees relive their traumatic rescues of others, said Dr. Ameen Ramzy, state director of Emergency Medical Services for the network of hospitals, trauma centers, ambulances and helicopters and the central Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore.
"I can sometimes see on their faces again the pain that they lived through . . . the moments of horror that seemed like hours," Dr. Ramzy said. "We thank you for going through that with us today."
Even for professionals, the emergencies that demand heroic response may occur when least expected, he noted.
Three Anne Arundel County fire fighters driving home from a paramedics course in Pennsylvania in January saw a crane fall over a bridge in York. The operator clung to the steering wheel of the upside down cab to keep from plunging 50 feet to the ground.
Rigging a set of lifelines and slings from nylon rope at the job site, they climbed out to the dangling cab, pulled the man up to the boom of the crane and lowered him safely to solid ground. "You prepare for lots of things, but you can't train for everything," said Hershel Shank, who was honored along with co-workers Douglas Fishel and Jeff Gormley. The three men employed the rope skills they learned together while exploring caves and rappelling from rock faces, he said.
Certificates of honor for life saving were awarded yesterday by the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services System to the following:
Lucretia A. Boles, Natural Resources Police -- though injured, treated fellow officer after car accident.
Robert Calo, Maryland State Police -- freed handicapped man from wrecked van.
Daniel Durst, Grantsville -- used cardiopulmonary resuscitation to save man who collapsed.
Douglas Fishel, Anne Arundel County Fire Department -- with two others, helped save operator of toppled crane in Pennsylvania.