200 Anne Arundel firefighters and paramedics will be honored

Ceremony to recognize meritorious service from dispatchers to rescuers

May 18, 2000|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

Earlier this year, Anne Arundel County officials remembered the fallen firefighters who gave their lives in service. Tonight, they plan to pay tribute to the heroes who are walking among them.

About 200 paramedics and firefighters -- career and volunteers -- will be recognized for meritorious and exemplary performance. They will be honored for bravery, dedication and preserving at the 6: 30 p.m. ceremony at the Earleigh Heights Fire Hall.

They are the emergency dispatchers who worked 17 hours straight through Hurricane Floyd, the rescuers who pulled people from flood waters and fiery cars and firefighters who risked their lives to pull children from a burning building.

"We're very proud of the men and women in the department," said Battalion Chief John M. Scholz. "These are just some of the shining examples of the total team effort that goes on every day. We don't give awards to everyone. They earn them."

Nearly 300 in the department have received a special campaign ribbon for working through Hurricane Floyd -- a 24-hour period in September of fires, floods, medical emergencies, power outages and general havoc.

In that time, the fire alarm unit, which dispatches paramedics and firefighters, received 1,069 calls -- seven times more than the average 150-daily call volume.

The division will receive a unit citation for exemplary performance, along with the Critical Stress Management Unit, which responds to crisis situations.

Seven citizens will receive exemplary performance awards -- many of whom performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation on victims until paramedics could arrive.

"Your chance of survival is greater because of citizens like these who take time out of their busy schedules to learn this life-saving technique," Scholz said.

Five firefighters will receive the top honor for meritorious conduct for attempting to rescue two children who died in a Waugh Chapel house fire in September during the hurricane, and six others will receive awards for exemplary service in the tragedy.

"The people on that crew risked their lives to get those kids out," said Battalion Chief James Bradley, who also will receive an award for his role, though he didn't want to be recognized and still finds it difficult to discuss.

"Everyone has their worst fire," he said. "This was mine."

No one knew children were trapped inside the house when the call was dispatched. And when the first units arrived, it was unclear where the 10-year-old and 5-year-old brothers were, Bradley said.

Firefighters -- including three veterans and two rookies -- headed for the second floor which was filled with heavy smoke. When they found the 5-year and got him out of the house, no medical units were on the scene, so they began CPR until the paramedics arrived, said Bradley.

Other firefighters continued searching for the 10-year-old, who they also pulled from the flames. At times, the firefighters had to drop their hoses, which meant they were at risk of dying in the blaze, so they could reach the children, Bradley said.

"You never know what you'll do until the moment comes," he said. "These firefighters did all they could to save a life."

Firefighter Matthew Tobia will receive the top honor for meritorious conduct for his role in highway rescue in January 1999.

Tobia was driving home to Lebanon County, Pa., after a 24-hour shift at the South Glen Burnie station when he was passed by a pickup truck on Interstate 81.

"They going really fast," Tobia said. "They nearly ran me off the road."

Minutes later, he saw the truck on the side of the highway, where it had landed after rolling over twice and running through a guard rail.

The male driver had been partially ejected from the truck and was pinned between the door frame and the door, suspended. His female passenger had been thrown from the front seat into the back jump seat, Tobia said.

"The undercarriage had caught fire, and the cab was starting to fill with smoke," said Tobia, a eight-year-veteran.

After directing a motorist to call 911 and request rescue units and a MedEvac helicopter, Tobia grabbed his gear from his car and asked several motorists to wave down tractor-trailers. "I spend a lot of time on the highway," he said, "and you can see on the trailer doors that it's says `Fire extinguisher equipped.' It's a federal requirement now."

Within minutes, 10 trucks had stopped. "I think they must have gotten on their CBs or something."

Using several of the extinguishers, Tobia put out the fire and -- along with several National Guardsmen -- freed the driver and took out the windshield to reach both people, who were screaming, Tobia said.

Paramedics and rescue units quickly arrived and a MedEvac helicopter took the driver, who had serious head injuries, and the passenger, who had critical neck injuries to Penn State University Hospital Shock Trauma Center. Both recovered.

"Although I'm being singled out for the award, if it weren't for a bunch of people -- the tractor-trailer drivers, the passing motorists, the National Guardsmen, the local units -- it wouldn't have worked out so well," Tobia said.

As for his role, Tobia said, "It's not that extraordinary. It's just part of what we do."

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