On a weekend when thousands of Americans came together to mourn those who were lost on Sept. 11, 2001 and pay tribute to the hundreds of emergency responders who risked their lives in the aftermath, Whitehall took some time Saturday afternoon to honor their own heroes.
A Blue Mass featuring representatives from the Whitehall Volunteer Fire Company, the Skenesborough Volunteer Fire Company, the Skenesborough Rescue Squad, the Whitehall Police Department, the Washington County Sheriff’s Department, the New York State Troopers, and past and current members of the military, was held at4 p.m.Saturday, Sept. 10 at Our Lady of Hope Church onSkene Street.
Members from American Legion Post 83 (and related affiliates), the Whitehall Elks, and the Knights of Columbus also attended and were joined by neighbors, friends and family.
During the mass, attendees offered their condolences and prayers not only to those affected by Sept. 11, but to emergency responders and military personnel everywhere.
They also took time to honor seven local firemen who responded to the scene of a fully engulfed fire earlier this spring and risked their own lives to save that of another.
Chief Bryan Brooks, Captain Thomas Rock, and firefighters Leon Gordon, Philip McKee (all of the WVFC) and Scott Rozell (SVFC) all received medals of Honor for their “performance of duty while on a call, under extreme hazardous conditions, in which the member is confronted with imminent personal risk, and has full knowledge of that risk, performs an act of conspicuous heroism which furthers the highest traditions of the fire service.”
Second Lieutenant Scott Wescott (WVFC) and firefighter Adam Mickel (SVFC) were awarded the Silver Lifesaving Medal for being “involved in saving the life of another person and whose personal actions were directly responsible for the lifesaving act.”
The men were called to the front of the church and as each stepped forward, village trustee Ken Bartholomew placed a medal around their necks and Skenesborough Fire Chief Michael Putorti handed each a certificate.
Afterwards, Supervisor Richard “Geezer” Gordon tolled a bell four times in honor of each group-SVFC, WVFC, Whitehall Police and the SkenesboroughEMS-that was involved on the fateful day.
On May 15 of this year both local companies were dispatched to a reported structure fire at 120 Broadway around8:30 p.m.
Initial responders, Michael Putorti and Sgt. Richard LaChapelle quickly determined there were people trapped in the building but lacked the necessary equipment to enter the building themselves.
Whitehall Fire Captain Tom Rock with Whitehall Firefighters Leon “Scooter” Gordon and Phillip McKee were informed by LaChapelle of the presence of people in the building and made the decision to enter the building from a second floor porch without the aid and protection of a hand held hose line.
During the search operation, firefighters encountered intense heat and a small propane canister exploded and McKee was struck by fragments of the container.
But the three firefighters continued to search the building until they came upon a male victim who they moved from a bedroom to the kitchen where Brooks and Rozell helped move him to the rear porch.
On the porch, Wescott took the victims vital signs and found no pulse. Mickel then administered CPR until the victim was removed by the Skenesborough Emergency Squad.
Their actions saved the man’s life. Another woman tragically perished in the blaze but if not for the valor of the firefighter that evening, it could have been worse.
As Jim Lafayette noted on Sunday, “we stopped to honor some local heroes but we really didn’t need to do that; everyone knows they are heroes. Every time we hear that whistle, they rush out. Most of the time it’s no big deal, but it is for them. Even when they don’t rush out into a burning building to save a life, they give something of their own life for the rest of us.”
He went to say how they often miss family dinners and baseball games so the rest of can enjoy a safe and happy life; a sacrifice that epitomizes what it means to be a hero.
“Remember, they run into the buildings that we run out of,”Lafayettesaid.