NEW CASTLE —
On June 7, after seeing smoke and hearing screams for help, seven people rushed into a burning Perry Township house.
Their quick action saved Donna Hunter’s life.
The rescuers — neighbors, friends and people who happened to be in the area — organized themselves into teams. Two by two they felt their way through intense heat and smoke-filled rooms at 720 Portersville Road and dragged the screaming woman to safety before firefighters arrived.
On Tuesday, the Wurtemburg-Perry Volunteer Fire Department honored Nathan Boyle, John Caccia, Traci Copper, Alan Folino, Mark Greene, Ken Massioni and Anthony Stefura for their heroism.
Two of the men were not present. John Caccia, just starting a new job, sent his sister, Karla Caccia Durnell, to represent him. Stefura declined to attend.
“He said he did nothing heroic, only what was needed,” Fire Chief Mark McDevitt said. Brian Partridge, assistant fire chief, will present the awards privately, he added.
“In my 39 years with the department, this is the first time anything like this happened,” McDevitt said prior to the ceremony. “They put their own lives and safety aside to save a life. We couldn’t let this go without honoring them. It’s that important what these folks did.”
Proclamations commending the seven were presented on behalf of the fire department, the township, Lawrence County and the state House of Representatives. Each of the 24 firefighters present shook the rescuers’ hands.
The victim’s son, Codey Hunter, personally thanked those involved, including firefighters from six departments, for saving his mother’s life.
“She’s the mother of three, grandmother of six,” he said. “There is no way to thank you. If not for you, she would have died.”
Hunter said his mother, still in the burn center at Pittsburgh’s Mercy Hospital, sustained third-degree burns to the back of her legs and a spot on her head. He said she’s had two skin grafts — July 3 and Monday — and anticipates another month in the hospital.
“She’s doing OK. She’s recovering.”
He also noted his mother, who suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, had several oxygen bottles in the house to treat that condition. They exploded from the heat, but not until she and the rescuers were out of the building.
“Tonight is about heroes,” McDevitt told families of those being recognized. He noted the rescuers had entered the building without training or the protective equipment of the firefighters.
“They are heroes. They placed themselves in great peril. They did a dramatic, heroic thing. We recognize them for that.”
Following the ceremony, Greene, 24, a neighbor, said he had heard Hunter screaming.
“I reacted. I didn’t think,” he said, noting the thick black smoke had made it impossible to see. “We heard her and kept moving toward the sound.”
Greene said he and Caccia had sustained small cuts to the palms of their hands.
“It’s nothing,” he said. “It’s already healed.”
Folino of Ellwood City, said he was doing yard work a few houses away when he heard car horns, saw smoke and heard Hunter’s screams.
“I ran over,” he said. “What else could I do?”
Folino said he had tossed a brick through a door window providing access to the locked house.
“It was like nothing I’ve ever experienced.”
As neighbors became aware of the fire, Copper said, “two men ran in, located Donna and started to drag her out.”
She said two people ran in to relieve the first two and were replaced in turn by others.
“The hand of God was on us,” Copper said. “We were able to get her out and none of us (rescuers) really got hurt in the process.”
NEW CASTLE —
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