SIDNEY — Firefighters and civilians were honored Monday night for their lifesaving efforts in two separate incidents.
Two of the firefighters received the Medal of Valor — the first time in the fire department’s history that the medal has been awarded.
Chief Brad Jones of the Department of Fire & Emergency Services presented the awards at the Sidney City Council meeting.
Firefighters Jake Coverstone and Jason Truesdale got the Medal of Valor. Firefighters Dallas Davis (Davis has since been promoted to lieutenant), Greg Francis, Anthony Marchal, Scott Marchal, Jeff Simon and Doug Stammen, Deputy Chief Cameron Haller and Assistant Chief Chris Niswonger received the Fire Chief’s Commendation Award. This was in recognition of their efforts at a river rescue June 19.
Honored for their heroic efforts in saving a man having a grave medical emergency on Sept. 30, 2014, were civilians Kenny Martin, Kyle Rhoades, Andrew Shaffer and Samantha Campolo. Campolo got the Fire Chief’s Medal of Honor and Martin, Rhoades and Shaffer received the Lifesaver Award.
The council room was filled with family and friends to witness the awards ceremony. Council and the audience applauded the award recipients and gave an extended standing ovation to the Medal of Valor recipients. Coverstone and Truesdale were allowed to choose the people who would place the medal around their necks. Coverstone’s wife gave him his medal, and Truesdale’s brother, who is the chief of the Shawnee Township Fire Department in Allen County, presented the medal to his brother.
The river rescue occurred when the Sidney department responded to a mutual-aid call from the Lockington Fire Department in the area of East Lockington and Miami River roads. A man who had been camping on an island in the middle of the river had become stranded after heavy rains had caused the river to rise to dangerously high levels.
Lockington established command and Niswonger was in charge of boat operations. Firefighters deployed Boat 2 with Coverstone and Truesdale above the victim. They worked their way downstream below the victim before coming back up and rescuing the man. Once the victim was in the boat, it lost power. Firefighters conducted an emergency maneuver and were able to secure the boat and its occupants to the island.
Boat 1 was launched with Davis and Francis to rescue Boat 2, but because of the current’s force and mechanical problems on Boat 1, firefighters were unable to complete the rescue. Downstream, teams of two or three personnel equipped with throw bags were placed in strategic positions, along with Boat 1, which was able to overcome its mechanical issues. These personnel were staged downriver of the stranded boat and were prepared to perform a rescue, if needed. A high-line was established across the river to reach the stranded rescuers and victim. The rescuers and the victim were able to ferry across the high-line to the shore safely. All shore personnel and Boat 1 were removed from the water.
“The dedication, hard work, and professionalism was clearly evident throughout the course of this incident,” Jones said in a news release. “These actions were in the finest tradition of the Department of Fire & Emergency Services and the fire service.”
On a screen at the back of council chambers, Jones projected photos taken of the rescue to give the audience an idea of the conditions that day.
In his written report to council for the Commendation Award, Jones said the firefighters “in the face of grave danger in the pursuit of trying to rescue their comrades knowing full well the boat they were operating was severely inadequate for the river conditions they faced, after facing mechanical problems and establishing that they were underpowered to match the river conditions, used a high skill-set in setting up a shore-based rigging systems to utilize rope bags to save the inflatable on two separate occasions — all with limited manpower — remained disciplined and did not (leave) their assigned positions. They were able to successfully recover their crewmates and victim from the river with no loss of life and only one minor injury.”
Concerning the Medal of Valor recipients, Jones said “these men acted with gallantry and valor in the face of grave danger when trapped for a second time against a strainer (a tree under water), out of sight and with no means of help immediately available, kept calm under pressure and protected the victim despite the danger to themselves.
“Jake single-handedly protected the victim, while maintaining the boat from being capsized and was able to free the motor and get it to an island shore. Without hesitation, Jason made the decision to swim to safety with full knowledge of the risk posed by the river conditions and the fact that if he should fail, no one would be able to save him. They performed in an exemplary manner, demonstrating a high degree of resourcefulness and courage.”
Jones stressed Monday night how dangerous the situation was, with the river level at 10 to 11 feet; “we don’t train over 6 feet.”
“Water is completely unforgiving and it never gives up,” Jones said.
“This was by far the most dangerous operation the Sidney fire department’s ever had,” Deputy Chief Cameron Haller said. He said firefighters who established training programs in earlier years made efforts such as the river rescue possible. He also thanked council and the citizens for making it possible for firefighters to have the equipment and training they need.
In the other incident, Campolo, who is a nurse and lives in Hilliard, was driving home after a visit in Sidney when she saw a man in peril as his car passed her auto. At that point, she parked her car and immediately began running down the street, yelling for help. After reaching his vehicle, she recognized the driver was having a grave medical event. At that point, Martin, Rhoades and Shaffer, who were attending football practice nearby, approached the vehicle, which was still in drive with its engine running and its doors locked. After they made multiple attempts to gain access to the man inside, they used a rock to break a window; they put the car in park and shut the engine off. The three men brought the victim to the sidewalk, where Campolo administered cardiopulmonary resuscitation. She continued CPR and assisted medics after they arrived until they placed a cardiac monitor on the victim and got it working.
“These lifesaving directions and treatments rendered unquestionably contributed to the successful resuscitation of this man,” Jones said in a news release.
Jones said Monday night the victim in this incident “is still up and walking around today.”
“It’s refreshing in today’s society we have fellow citizens like this,” Jones said after presenting the civilian awards.
The Department of Fire & Emergency Services’ Awards Program has been in existence since 1992. The purpose of the program is to publicly and officially recognize members of the department and community who distinguish themselves by virtue of their actions or who otherwise have contributed to the success of the department or the safety of our citizens. The Awards program recognizes such acts of valor or other lifesaving actions, distinguished performance of commendable actions or activities, and individuals or organizational activities that benefit the department in carrying out its mission.
The writer may be contacted at 937-538-4823 and on Twitter @MikeSeffrinSDN.