The Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services awarded its Star of Life last week to six Harford County sheriff's deputies and two civilians for rescuing a driver pinned inside his burning car seconds before it exploded Christmas Eve.
About noon Dec. 24, Deputy Javier Moro was responding to a call when he came upon a serious traffic accident on East West Highway.
A Chevy Blazer had struck a cement mixing truck head-on. The sport utility vehicle was crushed and a 17-year-old boy was trapped in the driver's seat. He was unconscious, bleeding heavily, and pinned under debris, the crushed dashboard and driver's area of the truck. Fire was under the hood and in the engine compartment.
Other Sheriff's Office personnel - Cpl. Ed Keplin, Deputy 1st Class Todd Robinson, Deputy 1st Class Pat Dailey, Deputy 1st Class Sam Mitchell and Deputy Michelle Klein - arrived at the scene to help. So did two civilians, Randy Reinecke and Jeff Taylor. Deputies emptied six fire extinguishers into the fire, but it continued to spread, entering into the passenger compartment.
The deputies and civilians pried open the doors using their hands and a deputy's baton and entered the vehicle. Despite the smoke, flames and heat, all the deputies and civilians reached into the truck to free the teen-ager from the wreckage but were unsuccessful.
The fire engulfed the dashboard and continued to move through the openings of the vents. The driver was still unresponsive and flames had spread to his clothing.
One deputy reached into the fire to grab the driver and found that his seatbelt was entangled in the wreckage and keeping deputies from freeing him.
Robinson re-entered the burning vehicle and cut the seatbelt with a pocketknife; deputies then pulled the driver from the vehicle.
Seconds later, the passenger compartment of the truck exploded into flames. Mitchell put out the fire on the driver's legs and clothing with his bare hands. Deputies then attended to the medical needs of the driver until fire and ambulance personnel arrived.
The teen-ager regained consciousness a short time later and was flown to the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore.
Dailey, Robinson, Keplin and Klein suffered smoke inhalation; Moro cut a finger during the rescue; and Keplin and Mitchell suffered second-degree burns on their hands. Both civilians suffered first-degree burns on their heads and faces.
The young driver, walking with the aid of crutches, attended the Harford County Sheriff's Office Awards Banquet on March 7 to thank those who saved his life.
The Maryland EMS Citizen awards also recognized four men in separate cars who saw a car and tractor-trailer crash on May 10 last year at Route 543 and U.S. 40 and stopped, pulling a husband and wife from the burning car.
Larry Steele of Dundalk, terminal manager for Midwestern Car Carriers in Baltimore, Lt. j.g. John McGowan, with the Coast Guard's headquarters office in Washington, and Army Maj. David Jones and Staff Sgt. Paul Cottingham, stationed at Aberdeen Proving Ground, arrived at the scene to find that the car, which had been crushed under the bed of the truck, was burning.
The men worked together to free the driver and passenger, Edward and Joanne Schafer of Parkville, from the front seat. "Within 30 seconds of extracting the driver, the entire car exploded into flames," Jones said. "Had we hesitated for even one minute, the fire would have consumed both passengers."
Also at the Stars of Life Awards banquet, the institute awarded the Harford County Sheriff's Office the Outstanding EMS Program Award for its use of automatic external defibrillators - portable devices that can detect certain life-threatening arrhythmia in the heart and deliver controlled shocks to return the heart to its normal rhythm.
Use of the device enabled two deputies to revive an 11-year-old boy who nearly drowned July 14 at the Broad Creek Memorial Scout Reservation.
The boy had just completed a swimming test and was climbing out of the pool when he fell back in and sank to the bottom. When Deputy 1st Class Brad Crossley and off-duty Deputy 1st Class Chris Gibbons got to the Whiteford camp, the boy was not breathing and had no pulse.
The deputies used the defibrillator to deliver one shock, which restored the boy's breathing and pulse. The boy was flown to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, where he remained for several weeks before being released. Nearly a month after the accident, the boy and his parents invited the deputies and other emergency responders who helped save his life to a dinner at the camp, to thank them.
Since the Harford County Council and Harford County Executive James M. Harkins approved funding for the automatic external defibrillators, the Sheriff's Office has placed more than two dozen of them in patrol cars throughout the county and others at facilities such as the Sheriff's Office Bel Air headquarters, the Southern and Northern precincts of the Sheriff's Office, Harford County Circuit Court and the Harford County Detention Center.
The institute presented its awards during a 1 p.m. ceremony Thursday at the John M. Murphy Building in Baltimore.