50 stories in 50 states: A list of the year’s most inspirational stories
Inspirational and harrowing stories from around the country in 2019
By FireRescue1 Staff
As 2019 draws to a close, we reflect on the state-by-state stories that brought a smile to our face, revealed the dedication of fire crews, and even made us gasp at the harrowing response efforts of firefighters working to keep their communities safe. Each state has a story that highlights the optimistic nature of fire response that extends from coast to coast.
A victim called 911 to report he had crashed a four-wheel vehicle and was stuck and lost in a wooded area along with a female with whom had been off-roading. First responders from multiple fire departments and other agencies searched the woods and found the victims.
Anchorage Fire Department firefighter Ben Schultz returned to work at the department after falling 100 feet from a ladder during a training exercise in June 2017. Schultz suffered a traumatic brain injury; broke both ankles, a few ribs and an arm; and bruised his liver in the fall. He was in a coma for a few months but is now back to part-time work at the department.
The Goodyear Fire Department unveiled a new fire truck designed to shield firefighters from carcinogens. The clean cab design includes compartments with roll-up doors on the side of the apparatus to store gear after responding to a scene, while the cab has no hooks or areas for the crew to place gear, to prevent contamination.
The Pine Bluff City Council voted to name Fire Station No. 3 in honor of retired firefighter Tommy Davis. After the vote, Davis, who retired in 2004, said that people have asked him what he wanted his legacy of working for the department to be, and he had a simple answer: “What I wanted to do was leave the place better than I found it.”
Santa Rosa firefighters rescued a woman and her dog after the woman’s car fell 10 feet off a bridge, partially submerging the car and leaving her in a nearly vertical position. Rescuers used chains and cable to stabilize and secure the rear of the car to the bridge and, at the woman’s request, rescuers removed the dog from the car first. Two Santa Rosa fire swift water rescue technicians went into the flowing creek and placed the woman on a floating rescue board, guiding it across the creek to a ladder.
South Metro Fire Rescue Authority swore in two service dogs as members of the department to help first responders with PTSD. The department conducted a ceremony and provided badges to the therapy dogs, Champ and Molson.
Don Antigiovanni and Stephen Jones celebrated 50 years of volunteer service with the Farmington Volunteer Fire Department. Antiogiovanni, who has been the department’s chief for the last 23 years, and Jones, who is currently treasurer, are both lifelong Farmington residents who joined the department in 1969, right out of high school.
Firefighters from the Wilmington Fire Department and Brandywine Fire Company helped rescue a Calpine Corp. contract worker who had become trapped. Crews used a ladder and rope to lower the worker to safety. The worker was alert and conscious during the 45-minute rescue.
Firefighter Greg Ferone was among a class of Orange County Fire Rescue recruits who, as part of the graduation ceremony, were honored with ceremonial pins given to them by family members who served in the military, fire rescue or law enforcement. Ferone’s father had been hospitalized and was unable to attend, but members of Ferone’s station intervened to create a special moment.
Capt. Elizabeth Hawkins, Firefighter Syndal Tillotson and Firefighter Brianna Depp make up Glynn County Fire Rescue Department’s first all-female engine company – Engine 2. Lest folks think south Georgia is behind the times, FDNY only staffed its first all-woman fire engine company in September 2018.
Before boarding a flight at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport, Richard Schmidt collapsed at the jetway. Salesi Maumau, an off-duty Honolulu firefighter, was one of the bystanders who jumped into action, started CPR and used an AED to revive Schmidt. Following his recovery, Schmidt had the opportunity to meet and thank Maumau for his efforts.
Thirty-four Idaho fire programs received wildland fire engines and equipment from the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Idaho Falls District, all thanks to the BLM’s new Rural Fire Readiness (RFR) program, which aims to provide local fire programs excess fire equipment that BLM no longer needs.
A group of nearly a dozen firefighters from the Plainfield Fire Protection District saved the day by showing up to Dominic Giatras’ birthday party after only one of 20 invited guests showed up. Giatras’ sister wasn’t exactly sure who called in the reinforcements, but said the firefighters made it a day her brother will never forget.
Bagersville Battalion Chief David Porter was enjoying his vacation by the pool at a hotel in St. Petersburg, Florida, when a woman was found at the bottom of the pool. She wasn’t breathing and had no pulse. Porter and another off-duty firefighter from Tampa administered CPR and got her pulse back.
Only six months after a silo explosion that killed a fellow firefighter, Adam Cain has returned to full active duty at the Clinton Fire Department. Cain suffered a bruised brain, two fractures in his back, a dislocated left elbow, a broken radius and ulna in his right arm, and broke most of his ribs broken during the explosion.
The Office of the State Fire Marshal doubled their funding from last year – awarding grants to 70 volunteer/part-time fire departments across Kansas. Due to the high volume of requests, officials are seeking allocations from the Legislature to keep the grant program going.
Jim Beam wrote an open letter to thank firefighters for battling a fire that recently burned down a storage warehouse in Kentucky. The bourbon producer’s company officials said they “raise our glass” in honor of the firefighters who extinguished the blaze and kept it from spreading.
A Baton Rouge fire crew saved a woman trapped in her car as it was being carried away by floodwaters. The rescue crew – Baton Rouge Fire Department Capt. Troy Pate, Fire Equipment Operator Jerome Courville, Firefighter Aaron Samson and Firefighter Thang Nguyen – smashed the window of the vehicle and pulled the woman out before the car was swept away.
More than 80 departments and dozens of volunteers pitched in to help Farmington firefighters after a Sept. 16 propane explosion killed one firefighter and injured six others. In October, the last outside coverage shift took place, and the department returned to what an internal press release called “the new normal.”
Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue Services responded to a report of two children clinging to a log in the Patapsco River. Crews had to enter the river and rescue the children, who were trapped in swift water. The children were evaluated on scene and released to their parents.
Firefighters, police officers and the U.S. Coast Guard rescued a 13-year-old boy who had fallen off a rock at Rafe’s Chasm and was swept 50-75 feet offshore. The Coast Guard launched a 47-foot motor lifeboat to rescue the boy, who was taken to a hospital for treatment in good condition.
Responders said the man became trapped between two tractor-trailer tires while he was servicing the rig’s refrigeration unit. Crews worked to extricate the mechanic, who suffered minor injuries, for about 40 minutes.
Duluth artist Eric Waller presented Duluth Fire Department’s Station 10 with a relief depicting the station carved into a slab of white Italian Carrara marble. The piece was gifted to the station after the department helped save Waller after a car crash in June 2012.
The Meridian Fire Department is using new masks, which have their own camera feed in the lower righthand corner, to reduce firefighters’ risks while on scene. The camera can be programmed to detect hot and cold spots. The department is also utilizing new gas detectors to help detect and measure oxygen, hydrogen sulfide and carbon monoxide.
Four children under the age of 4 were pulled from a burning home after being left alone without adult supervision. Three children were in cardiac arrest after crews saved them from inside the burning home. All four were hospitalized and eventually listed in stable condition.
The boy fell into a snow-covered fissure between rocks and was lodged 5 feet below the surface of the Rimrocks. Billings Fire Department firefighters used a harness and rope system to lift the boy from the crack. The boy was transported to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.
Omaha Fire Chief Daniel C. Olsen and Battalion Chief Scott Fitzpatrick visited the Children’s Hospital and Medical Center, along with members of the Omaha Police Department, in order to spread holiday cheer. The event was organized as part of “Kids with Cops and Firefighters,” an initiative to bring kindness and support to children dealing with serious medical issues.
Henderson firefighters retrieved a wedding dress and ring from the home of a Nevada couple whose house went up in flames just one week before their wedding. The couple thanked crews for saving the special items so they could move forward with their special day.
The town of Rye’s decision to fund $35,000 for a jet ski for water rescues paid off, when firefighters used it to save a kayaker who overturned in the ocean. Two Rye firefighters responded to Rye Harbor where the Sea-Doo jet ski is docked, and they used it to locate the kayaker. One firefighter was operating the jet ski, while the other was able to rescue the man from the water and bring him back to shore.
Gloucester Township Fire District 6 firefighters were summoned to a local business for an unusual rescue when a child ended up trapped inside a claw machine. Firefighters dismantled the claw machine, which was filled with balls, to rescue the small child.
Santa Fe Firefighter Rollin Tylerr Jones was featured as one of the Santa Fe New Mexican’s “10 Who Made a Difference for 2019.” Jones has organized fundraisers to combat breast cancer and support the Muscular Dystrophy Association, has had his head shaved to raise money for childhood cancer research through the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, and has taken his lifesaving skills across the nation and around the world to provide aid in dire situations.
A September 2019 FDNY Fire Academy graduating class consisted of 301 newly sworn in firefighters, including 21 descendants of 9/11 first responders who lost their lives during the 2001 terror attacks on the city. Of those 21, 13 are children of fallen FDNY firefighters, including a brother and sister who are following in not only their fallen father’s footsteps, but their older brothers’, who serve as firefighters, as well.
Oak Island Water Rescue firefighters saved an 8-year-old boy who had drifted a half-mile out to sea on his giant unicorn-shaped float. The volunteer rescue team sent out a boat within 15 minutes of receiving the emergency phone call from his parents asking for help.
The U.S. Department of Commerce and U.S. Department of Transportation awarded more than $1.47 million to North Dakota to fund the next phase of upgrades to all 22 of the state’s 911 call centers. As such, North Dakota’s emergency call centers will enter the next phase of upgrades to enable Next Generation 911 capabilities through the 911 Grant Program.
Volunteers from the Make-A-Wish Foundation worked with Tallmadge community members to grant wishes for Ian Alaniz – getting a wheelchair-accessible treehouse and riding in a fire truck. After a school assembly in which Alaniz learned his wishes were coming true, members of the Tallmadge Fire Department were on hand with one of their ladder trucks to take Ian home.
Two window washers were rescued from a scaffold above the roof of an approximately 850-foot skyscraper in downtown Oklahoma City. Fire Capt. David Macy said firefighters secured the scaffold with ropes as it dangled from a crane 20-30 feet above the roof and rescued the stranded workers.
Oswego city firefighters and state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) officers rescued a bald eagle hanging from a branch over the Oswego River after someone noticed it appeared injured. Rescuers had to cut away a blanket from the eagle’s talons before they could bring it back to shore. DEC officers then transported the bald eagle to someone who could help rehabilitate it.
Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Nelson Agholor offered to bring Hakim Laws to an Eagles game after Laws helped firefighters rescue children from a burning apartment fire. A former firefighter, Laws told news crews after the fire, “My man just started throwing babies out the window, but we was catching them, unlike Agholor and his mishaps. I’d like to put that out there.” The clip went viral, prompting the gesture from Agholor.
The Pascoag Fire Department got a call about a female mallard in distress, circling around a storm drain, where nine of her ducklings had fallen. Over the course of about two hours, firefighters used a pool net to pull out the ducklings. The mother duck waited for all of them to be pulled out, and was ecstatic. So were the firefighters.
Brian Rands says a house fire would have ended his life if it weren’t for his four-legged friend. After a fire ignited in the house, Curly, a 70-pound dog, nudged and pushed the sleeping Rand until he woke. Rand says the roof would’ve collapsed on him if Curly hadn’t awakened him. Half of Rand’s home was destroyed but firefighters were able to save Rand’s medals from his service during the Vietnam War.
Janis Powers, who lost her Sonoma County home in a 2017 wildfire, visited Sioux Falls Fire Rescue to thank crews for assisting in the fight against the Kincade Fire in Geyersville, California. Powers was visiting her daughter and grandchildren in South Dakota while the fast-moving Kincade Fire threatened her rebuilt home once again. Powers’ home was saved thanks to the efforts of many fire crews in California.
While on their way to their first awards banquet, Maury County Fire Department crews responded to a heavily involved house fire. Chief Jeff Hardy called for crews to evacuate, but he became partially trapped after a portion of the house collapsed above him as he was exiting. A fire lieutenant pulled Chief Hardy from the building immediately. Chief Hardy credited the lieutenant’s quick thinking, saying the incident could have ended much worse.
Firefighters had to think fast after a man became trapped under a DART train in downtown Dallas. In order to save him, crews used airbags to lift the train. The man, whose name was not released, was taken to the hospital. His condition was unknown.
North Davis Fire District Chief Allen Hadley and Capt. Kevin Lloyd responded to a car crash involving a mother and her young daughter. The two firefighters, who are both fathers of young girls, noticed the girl was visibly upset. To calm her down, they let her paint their nails purple while paramedics treated her mother on scene.
In an effort to never forget the 9/11 attacks, a new memorial in Vermont is a standing tribute to the thousands of rescue and recovery workers who labored in the ruins of the World Trade Center. The memorial will also honor those who died or have been sickened from exposure to toxins after the towers collapsed. The memorial, which includes a path flanked by six stone monoliths, will include steel salvaged from the World Trade Center.
Crews with the City of Hampton’s Division of Fire and Rescue will begin wearing gear that’s specifically designed to reduce exposure to harmful chemicals. They are the first in the region to wear the protective gear, which blocks access through the wrists, ankles, neck and core.
Eight years ago, Spokane Valley firefighters interviewed Alexis Skjelbred for the Spokane Valley Fire Employees Scholarship. Skjelbred, who spoke about her passion to pursue a nursing degree, was later awarded the scholarship. She now works as a cardiac care nurse at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center and has had the chance to care for the same firefighters who gave her an opportunity to turn her dream into a reality.
In honor of the longest-serving volunteer firefighter in state history, a portion of state Route 46 was dubbed the Chief Robert Edward Dorsey Memorial Highway. Chief Dorsey, a World War II veteran, served as a volunteer firefighter with the Keyser Volunteer Fire Department for 70 years. He died in September 2018.
A Milwaukee Fire Department diver, who responded to a call about a vehicle that landed in the Kinnickinnic River, had a close call after becoming stuck while trying to rescue the victim from her submerged vehicle. Conditions during the rescue were not ideal; crews reported freezing temperatures, sleet and strong currents. The firefighter was rescued by his colleagues and sent home to recover.
The Casper Natrona County International Airport received an almost $9 million federal grant to renovate its ARFF training facility. The grant, funded by the Federal Aviation Trust Fund, will help fund a 3,000-gallon ARFF rig, as well as the reconstruction of the training facility. It will also assist in the expansion of the Airport Public Safety Facility, which will provide a dedicated training area for crews.
Bonus: International News
We can’t forget our brothers and sisters around the globe. Here’s an uplifting story about a particularly powerful rescue:
Pope Francis was late delivering the traditional Angelus prayer, as the head of the Catholic Church was stuck in a Vatican lift, prompting a rescue by firefighters.