Detroit firefighters, police receive Purple Hearts
Firefighter Bryan Kubasta suffered severe second- and third-degree burns when a floor collapsed at a fire, causing his turnout gear to roll up and expose his body
By Robert Allen
Detroit Free Press
DETROIT — Two Detroit policemen killed on duty this fall are to be honored Wednesday for their service with posthumous Purple Heart awards at a ceremony in Cobo Center. And a dedication will be made in memory of a Wayne State University policeman fatally shot last week.
The 2016 Above and Beyond Awards Ceremony, where Detroit police officers and firefighters are honored for work that often involves saving lives, occurs as the community mourns the third death of an on-duty local police officer in the past three months — all separate incidents in Detroit.
Sgt. Kenneth Steil, 46, died five days after he was shot Sept. 12 while pursuing a suspect on Detroit's east side. Police Officer Myron Jarrett, 40, was killed Oct. 28 when he was hit by a van while responding to a traffic incident on the west side. Both were promoted posthumously, and both are to be awarded Purple Hearts at the ceremony in Cobo Center, according to the Detroit Public Safety Foundation, which hosts the event.
WSU Police Officer Collin Rose, 29, was fatally shot Nov. 22 as he tried to arrest a man in the Woodbridge neighborhood, just west of Wayne State's Midtown campus. A visitation is scheduled for Wednesday at Ford Field, and visitation and funeral mass are planned Thursday morning at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church in St. Clair Shores. In all three cases, suspects have been arrested and face murder charges.
Nationally, the number of police officers killed by gunfire this year is up 64%, with 59 officers killed; and the overall number of police line-of-duty deaths is up 12%, with 132 deaths, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page, a website that honors fallen officers.
At Wednesday's awards ceremony, four police officers and eight firefighters are to receive Purple Hearts, an award given to firefighters and police officers injured or killed in the line of duty. That's the highest number in the four years the Detroit Public Safety Foundation has hosted the ceremony, foundation spokeswoman Maureen Saxton said.
The other two police officers to receive Purple Hearts are Darren Long and Charles Howard, both of whom were shot while exchanging gunfire with a suspect on Nov. 16, 2015. They pursued the man in a vehicle chase that turned to a foot chase when he began firing shots at them. Long was shot in the lower leg, and a bullet grazed Howard's forehead, according to reports Saxton provided.
The suspect was wounded and eventually arrested. Long and Howard, as well as officers Steven Rata (who injured his ribs diving to avoid gunfire) and Kenneth Regnerus (who broke his finger), all were injured and are all to receive the Medal of Valor on Wednesday.
These are among many awards to be presented at Wednesday's ceremony, which last year was attended by more than 1,000 people. This year, as many as 1,500 are expected. The Detroit Public Safety Foundation presenting the event is a nonprofit organization that uses donations from companies, people, foundations and more to help the police and fire departments with needs not met by their budgets, according to its website.
Free Press reporter Robert Allen will be among the people presenting the awards at Wednesday's ceremony.
Here are summaries of the firefighters' Purple Heart awards, based on the provided reports:
Detroit Fire Department's 2016 Purple Heart recipients
Firefighter Martez Dixson was injured Jan. 9 while fighting a fire on Michigan Avenue. As he was trying to exit the commercial building, Engine 34’s line became caught. Dixson and his sergeant went back to free the line but lost contact. His sergeant became disoriented with the smoke and heat, but he could hear the muffled sounds of the fire rig. He followed that noise and found a door that had been opened by Squad 4. He notified the crew that Dixson was still inside.
Dixson was with the fire line when a lieutenant found him. The line was still caught and Dixson was running out of air. The lieutenant ordered Dixson to drop the line and follow him. They tried to find their way out but to no avail. The lieutenant was able to find a window and began breaking it. The lieutenant lifted Dixson through the window to other firefighters and then he climbed out of the same window. Dixson was taken to Detroit Receiving Hospital in critical condition. He has since recovered and returned to work.
Firefighter Thomas Fortunate was injured while responding to a fire on Dec. 19, 2015. He was working with Engine 58 when they responded to a home with flames shooting out of the second story. He stretched the hose and went inside the home to fight the fire. As he made his way to the top of the steps, the landing gave way, dropping beneath his feet. He was able to catch himself on the floor joists but that caused his sleeves to ride up, exposing both arms and wrists to the steam and direct heat.
A sergeant on the scene was able to pull him out and down the stairs. Medics transported him to the hospital where he spent one night being treated for the severe burns. After two months off and time to recover, Fortunate continues to fight fires with the Detroit Fire Department. He said the injury didn’t deter him from continuing his work.
Firefighter Eric Ivey, along with the rest of his crew in Squad 5, was dispatched Nov. 3, 2015, to a three-alarm apartment fire at West Outer Drive and Dolphin. Ivey was instructed to report to the third floor of the building. At the same time, the crew of Engine 30 was above them working on a fully involved fire in the attic. After fighting the attic blaze for several minutes, the call was made to pull back and regroup.
As the attic crew was exiting, Ivey was handed a charged hose line and continued working on several apartment fires, which began to rekindle. As he was approaching one apartment, he was met with fierce flames moving from the bedroom into the hallway. Ivey was moving toward the fully ablaze bedroom when he saw the ceiling and burning ashes collapse onto another firefighter. He instantly ran toward the firefighter to help and then the ceiling collapsed on him as well. Immediately after feeling the burns on his head and back, he felt his coworkers pulling him out of the rubbish and spraying him with water to extinguish the burns.
He was ordered to receive treatment, but despite severe burns, his desire was to keep fighting the fire with his crew.
Firefighter Bryan Kubasta responded to a mutual aid fire in Highland Park in the early morning hours of Oct. 13. His crew, Engine 40, was the second crew to arrive on the scene and was responsible for extinguishing the fire. Just as they put out the final flames on the second level, the floor collapsed with four firefighters falling to the floor below. One of the firefighters injured his ankle, but Kubasta’s injuries were severe. His protective coat came up as he fell, exposing his body to debris and embers resulting in severe second- and third-degree burns on his stomach and back. In addition to the burns, he injured his knee, shoulder and hip.
Kubasta spent 12 days in the hospital, two days in an intensive-care burn unit and 10 days in a recovery unit. He had surgery to promote tissue growth and continues to heal from the extensive burns. He has therapy three days a week and goes to the burn clinic once a week.
Lt. David McLeod was promoted to lieutenant on June 10. He was injured the same day while working his first assignment with a new crew, Ladder 23 and Engine 50. They already had a busy morning by 6 a.m., when they were called to a house fire in a bungalow. They were told people were possibly trapped. As the crew was doing a search for victims, the floor fell beneath McLeod, dropping him to the basement. McLeod fell head first, dislocating his arm, shattering his shoulder and breaking his back in three spots. He also had first- and second-degree burns on his back and arms.
Because of the noise and chaos of the scene, it took some time for his crew to find him covered in a pile of ash and burning embers. McLeod had emergency surgery on his shoulder that day and back surgery in July. At this point, he continues to focus on his recovery, but he hopes to join the fire department again when he is able.
Firefighter Desmond Orr responded on Father's Day, June 19, to a fire on Young Street with his crew, Engine 50. When they arrived, flames were shooting out of the attic. Engine 50 pulled the ladders off the truck and began fighting the fire from inside. With the help of one of their tools, Orr was able to climb into the attic and sit on a rafter to attack the fire. Then the roof began to cave above him. The ceiling fell, pushing him off the rafter and to the floor below.
Orr bruised his ribs, had a bruise to his lung and had minor burns. After spending about three days in the hospital, he recovered from his injuries and continues to work as a firefighter today. He said he is grateful for the support he received, adding that is what the brotherhood is all about.
Firefighter Jeramey Saffold was injured while fighting a fire on July 17. After arriving on scene, his crew found a two-story dwelling fully engulfed in flames and another two-story home exposed to the fire. Ladder 31 began to fight the fire on the first dwelling and then moved on to check the next structure. After ensuring the second structure was secure, they turned their attention back to the first home. They checked both buildings to make sure no one was still inside and then found the fire was spreading on the first roof again. As the crew was on the roof, Saffold lost his footing and slipped.
As a result of the fall, he damaged two vertebrae. He spent two days in the hospital and then another month on bed rest. After months of therapy, Saffold made a full recovery and is back to work as a Detroit firefighter. He said the injury did not discourage him from doing his job.
Firefighter Rock Turnipseed was injured on June 30, 2003. Engine 56 was the first crew to arrive on the scene of a business, which was fully engulfed in flames. The crew was stretching the hose line and preparing to enter when the roof collapsed, knocking out the front wall. The wall collapsed on Turnipseed, crushing his foot. He went to the hospital from the scene and had emergency surgery. After a second surgery, it was determined that the damage was too severe. His foot was amputated on July 4, 2003 and he received a prosthetic.
When talking about his injury, Turnipseed was grateful to the firefighters who supported him during that time and after the injury.
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