Knox Volunteer Fire Company Honored for Rescuing Man Trapped in Burning Building
“The commendation that was awarded to the Knox Volunteer Fire Company was a team effort on the rescue at a fire in Knox Borough,” Matthew Yeager, Chief of Knox Volunteer Fire Company, told exploreClarion.com.
Representative Donna Oberlander presented the certificate during the company’s annual dinner on Saturday, January 11.
“It was my honor to thank them for their hard work and selfless dedication to our community,” Oberlander said.
The rescue took place shortly after 9 p.m. on November 14 at a structure fire that occurred at 335 Best Avenue in Knox Borough.
According to Yeager, the rescue took the combined effort of the entire team.
“It was a team effort with the crew that worked together. The effort in setting up the 35-foot ladder, then the two firefighters that went up the ladder to pull the gentlemen out of the window on to the ladder. The ground crew was holding the ladder so it wouldn’t slide or fall while the two firefighters were on the ladder. The other firefighters pulled a hose line and started to attack the fire,” Yeager said.
“The crew that night and as always did expertly what they are trained to do in these kinds of emergency situations. The community should be very proud of their volunteer fire company.”
The two men who scaled that ladder also shared a bit about what occurred that night.
Jon Weaver, who celebrated 20 years with Knox Volunteer Fire Company just a few weeks prior to the night of the fire, was the first up the ladder.
According to Weaver, they got confirmation that someone was trapped while they were en route to the fire, and arrived to find the situation looking dire.
“The whole back of the house was just ablaze, from the ground clear through the third floor,” Weaver said.
“You could see the steps going up to a deck on the second floor and on up to the third floor, that whole area was just ablaze.”
According to Weaver, who was on the first truck to arrive at the scene, volunteers from the company responded en masse, with 27 responders from Knox alone arriving at the scene before the night was through, plus companies from Emlenton, St. Petersburg, Shippenville, Parker, and Seneca.
“There were firefighters coming out of the woodwork that night,” he said.
He was helping to pull the hose off the truck while others were setting the ladder up when he realized someone was shouting up to the trapped individual.
“You start to realize ‘Is this really happening? Is there really someone stuck in this house?’ It starts to hit you.”
Weaver said he ended up helping to finish getting the ladder up and looked up and wondered who was going to make the climb when he heard it.
“I heard, “Jon! Jon, get up there!”
According to Weaver, the visibility was terrible as he started up the ladder, with thick smoke rolling around the building and no lighting set up yet.
“I never saw the guy. All I know is they were yelling to someone in this window, but I didn’t see nothing and I could hardly even see the window.”
The situation turned even more dire when he reached the window and found an arm hanging down at him.
“That’s as real as you can get right there. I touched his hand and said ‘hey’ and it just kind of shook, so I grabbed his hand and put my hand up on his back and shook, and I could just feel his body was limp, and I thought ‘well, this situation just got worse.'”
Weaver said at that point he feared his mission had gone from a rescue to a recovery. However, he plowed on, reaching in and trying to maneuver the man out of the window, which proved to be complicated, as well, in part due to the low visibility.
“I didn’t realize it was an awning-style window, which the bars go out at the bottom to push it out, and he was hung up on those bars.”
He continued to try to maneuver the man out of the window and thought he had him on a windowsill, but with his next pull, the man fell on him.
“Luckily, my left hand had a good grip on the ladder, and he just kind of draped across my left arm and my right hand had ahold of his shirt, so I just leaned into the ladder and pinned him.”
That’s when Weaver felt that the man was still breathing, and called for help in getting the man back down the ladder.
Josh Lencer, who has been with Knox Volunteer Fire Company for about five years, was the one to answer that call.
“After he yelled, as our chief at the time was yelling for me to go up the ladder, I was already on my way up,” Lencer said.
“I got up to where he had him and we slowly got him kind of coaxed into the middle so we had a good hold of him, and just slowly worked him down.”
“Josh came up behind me and grabbed him by the legs and I said ‘We gotta get out of here now,’ because it was bad,” Weaver noted.
“It was heavy smoke, a lot of heat, nothing anyone should be breathing. We needed to get him down out of there, and we needed to get him down out of there quick.”
However, the ordeal still wasn’t over. As they got further down the ladder, they began to have problems, with the smoke and low visibility again playing a role.
“I don’t remember seeing anything. I just remember it being black,” Weaver said.
“We went down and I had no idea how far down the ladder we were when Josh said to hold up for a second. At some point I kind of switched my grip, but I knew the guy was kind of sliding down on me. Then when Josh yelled hold up, I couldn’t put my left foot down because either the guy or Josh’s hand, something was on the ladder there.”
According to Lencer, the trouble on the ladder came from the man’s feet getting caught up in the rungs.
“We kept going slow, but I think when (Weaver) was trying to shift and move, his (the man’s) weight just shifted,” Lencer said.
According to Weaver, the man’s weight shifted all at once, and with his thick fire gloves on, he just couldn’t maintain his grip.
“I held on to his shirt as long as I could because I knew that would keep his head up if he fell, and I didn’t know if we were five feet up or twenty feet up. Then he slipped out of my hands. It’s a sound you’ll never forget.”
The man slipped from the firefighter’s grip and fell to the ground. Luckily, they were only about eight feet off the ground at that time, and not as far off the ground as Weaver feared.
“I don’t know how fast (Lencer) got off the ladder, but I felt like I hit about three rungs and that’s the first time I remember seeing anything. I saw the ground and I just jumped and hit right beside the guy and stepped up. He was just in a complete daze, but he was looking around, gasping for air.
Weaver said the medics then stepped in immediately.
“They said something to him, and he turned around, and I thought ‘that’s good, that he’s reacting to their voices.'”
According to Weaver, they didn’t receive a lot of information about the man’s condition after the fire, but were told he was going to survive, and his injuries were all from the fire, and not from his brief tumble from the ladder on the way out.
“That’s one of the things that’s part of being in here in general, whether it’s a wreck or something like that, once you pass that patient off, there’s times we never hear a thing afterward,” he noted.
However, once the rescue was over, the night was still far from over for the firefighters at the scene. According to Weaver, they didn’t finally clear the scene until after 1:00 a.m.
“We had a little trouble up in the attic space. It was a finished attic and when you finish an attic like that, it creates a lot of voids up there, so every one of those voids you have a potential to get fire in, and no good way to get water in.”
He noted firefighters from Emlenton had taken down a lot of the drywall to get in the voids that had fire in them, but as they were sending the other companies back, they realized they had a couple of trouble spots left and had to go back in again.
“In the end, we got them all. It didn’t take back off on us or anything, but when you get into finished attic space with a Cape-style roof, you just end up with places where fire gets between the drywall and the exterior wall.”
While the fire was finally extinguished, the structure was heavily damaged but saved. The cause of the fire, however, remains undetermined, with a Pennsylvania State Police Fire Marshal investigation still ongoing.
The rescue is something that won’t soon be forgotten for the firefighters in Knox, though.
“It puts things into perspective. We celebrated our 85th anniversary I think it was in ’98, and you look back through your honorary members and past chiefs and the guys who built this…and they built this building, and for 85 years they’ve been building up to this point, where we have the right equipment, the right trucks, the right gear,” Weaver said.
“It also puts in perspective how short a time you have. When we pulled in, there was a guy standing there yelling to the guy in the window, and he was responding, and as quick as we could get a ladder off the truck and up to the window and I could get up there, I don’t even know if he was breathing when I got to him. He was unconscious, and when he came out the window and came down on my arm, my arm went up under his diaphragm. I don’t know if that jump-started his breathing again or if he was still just breathing shallow, but when I first got to him I was afraid we were on recovery and not rescue.”
Weaver noted the certificate of commendation brings both of those perspectives together, and reminds them how the growth and development of the company over the years, matched with the team effort from the current crew, can come together to save a life.
“Up there, there was no question: if we were thirty seconds or a minute later, or it didn’t happen that way, he was gone,” Weaver said.
“As Fire Chief I am very proud of these gentlemen and their selfless heroic actions,” Yeager noted.
“The company is very proud of the commendation. We will continue to strive to be the best we can be for our community.”
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