State College on Monday night honored five borough police officers and a public works employee for their heroic efforts to rescue a resident from a fire that destroyed her home last month.
Lt. Barrett Smith, officers Larry Crawford, Cameron Earnest, Dean Woodring and Benjamin Capozzi and public works employee Jonathan McClure were named recipients of the Life Saving Award during the virtual borough council meeting. The certificates will be presented in person at a later date.
“[They] exhibited the highest degree of bravery placing their own lives at risk to save the life of another,” Borough Manager Tom Fountaine said. “Under extreme conditions these borough employees located and physically extricated the victim who was totally incapable of assisting with her own extrication. These employees were able to move the victim approximately 65 feet from the burning home to safety. These employees were exposed to the smoke and fire conditions for three and a half minutes that it took to extricate the victim.”
Woodring was the first on the scene after a fire broke out at about 2 p.m. on March 18 at 801 Crabapple Court, where a caregiver had been unable to get the resident out of the house. Woodring entered the smoke-filled garage and when he opened the door to the house the intensity of the smoke and heat threw him backwards.
He then entered the home as the woman yelled for help and through heavy smoke used his flashlight to locate her. Woodring attempted to help her up to her walker but she was unable to hold on, so he radioed for more officers to assist. As he awaited their arrival, Woodring became overcome by the smoke and heat and had to go outside for oxygen and to clear his vision.
Smith, Crawford, Capozzi and McClure arrived and, followed by Woodring, they entered the garage. Smith and Capozzi attempted to go inside the house but soon after Capozzi was overcome by the smoke and heat and was forced back outside.
“Extremely heavy smoke is observed on the officers’ body cameras billowing out of the garage as this happens,” Fountaine said.
Earnest arrived next but he and the others were forced outside because of the smoke and heat. As they did, the garage door began to collapse, requiring Earnest and Smith to force it back open.
Earnest then entered the house alone and located the resident. He was soon joined by the others and they began to successfully get the victim out of the house and into the garage.
“As the employees began to get the victim out of the fully engulfed house, they one more time had to disengage and get more fresh air before getting her out into the threshold of the garage,” Fountaine said. “As the smoke intensified even more so at the threshold of the garage, they were able to move the victim to the sidewalk.”
At the sidewalk they were still in a cloud of smoke. Fountaine said body camera footage showed “each of the officers in heavy distress from the fire exposure.”
After getting to the sidewalk Earnest, Crawford and Capozzi immediately tended to the woman and provided supplemental oxygen. They remained with her until fire and EMS personnel took over her care.
The six borough employees were taken to Mount Nittany Medical Center, where they were treated for smoke inhalation and released. The resident was hospitalized to be treated for burns and her caregiver was treated for minor injuries.
Alpha and Boalsburg fire companies battled the fire for about 90 minutes. Centre LifeLink EMS and Penn State University Ambulance Service provided medical treatment and transport.
Centre Region Fire Director Steve Bair said the house was a total loss. The fire was ruled accidental and appeared to have originated with a kitchen appliance.
Bair said in March that without the efforts of the officers and McClure, “we would probably be dealing with a fatal fire.”
“This is courageous, very courageous,” Bair said. “I think it stands as testament to the kind of people that work around here in local government.”
“The actions of these employees reflect the highest degree of courage in the face of danger, distinguishing their actions and self-sacrifice as being above and beyond the call of duty,” Fountaine said on Monday.