Spirit of Courage
It takes special people to exceed expectations when thrust into the line of fire.
Two such men, firefighter Stephen Ebbert and Lt. Scott Smith of the Lehighton Fire Department, did just that earlier this year, and on Tuesday were recognized for their valiant efforts.
Ebbert and Smith were among nine first responders lauded by Valley Preferred Spirit of Courage Awards during its 13th annual celebration held at Lehigh Valley Hospital-Muhlenberg.
Specifically, Ebbert and Smith were acknowledged for risking their lives to save two people from a fire after they entered a burning apartment building filled with gasoline on Main Road in Weissport back in January.
When firefighters arrived at an apartment house engulfed in flames, they learned there was a victim trapped in the basement where the fire started. Multiple motorcycles and gas tanks stored in the basement had created a fuel fire that was difficult to extinguish.
Smith and Ebbert ran through a wall of fire, found the unconscious victim under a tarp in the smoke and fire-filled room, and brought him out to the waiting EMS crew.
If that wasn’t enough, Smith and Ebbert then went back into the fully engulfed building and located another victim on the second floor.
Despite the heroic efforts of the firefighters, both victims, Gerald Boeck and Robert Fritzinger, died.
Ebbert, who has been with the fire department for over 30 years, said that while they were able to locate the victims, it was only due to the teamwork of the other fire companies that were on scene.
“The other firefighters that were there that night, all working together, allowed us to accomplish a common goal,” Ebbert said. “We just happened to be riding the seats assigned to search and rescue that night, and we both know and trust our fellow firefighters that they too would have accomplished this goal.”
Smith, who has been with the fire department for 16 years, noted that Lehighton, Franklin Township, Bowmanstown, East Penn Township, Mahoning Township and Parryville fire companies, along with Palmerton Ambulance, Lehighton ALS and Mahoning Valley Ambulance also responded.
He said it was important to mention them, “As a way of saying thank you for protecting us while we searched. These fine organizations also have a part in this award,” Smith said.
Both men were nominated for the Spirit of Courage Award by Franklin Township fire Chief Lynn Diehl.
Ebbert and Smith were joined at the celebration by two Mahanoy City police officers who rescued a man and his infant son from their burning home, a Shillington firefighter and emergency medical technician who wavered precariously from a ladder when a woman jumped onto them from a second-floor window and three Hazleton firefighters who saved an elderly woman in an extreme house fire.
The ceremony also honored Zachary Anthony, a Pleasant Valley graduate who died fighting a fire in York earlier this year.
The honorees were joined by a special guest, burn survivor and international activist Natalia Ponce de Leon, who recounted being burned in an acid attack in her native Colombia, and her efforts to get laws changed to protect women around the world and to bring perpetrators to justice.
Before that event, Ponce de Leon spoke to the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York City as part of a panel discussion on femicide in Latin America.
The Valley Preferred Spirit of Courage awards celebration was started locally by the Burn Prevention Network in partnership with Valley Preferred and Lehigh Valley Health Network to recognize those who go “above and beyond” to perform a heroic act to save someone from burn deaths or injury.
Valley Preferred, a provider-owned, preferred provider organization, sponsored the program to raise public awareness regarding burn safety and prevention.