'The stars aligned': Pa. FFs, EMTs recognized for rescuing man from house fire

Multiple Mechanicsburg firefighters and EMTs happened to be in the area for one of the worst fires in recent memory


Zack Hoopes
The Sentinel, Carlisle, Pa.

MECHANICSBURG, Pa. — When Savannah Toddes and James Archer showed up to their usual training night with the Mechanicsburg Fire Department on Aug. 3, they didn't expect to be pulling an actual person out of an actual fire.

But somehow, as Mechanicsburg Fire Chief Gary Neff put it, "the stars aligned" for multiple emergency personnel to coincidentally be in the area for one of the worst fires in recent memory.

On Tuesday night, in a ceremony at a borough council meeting, Neff presented Toddes and Archer with medals of valor — the highest honor given by the department — as well as issuing service medals and citations to nearly 20 others who were involved in the high-stakes rescue last month.

Presenting the awards alongside Neff was Ronald Troxell, the man they saved.

"It was a blessing. I could've been gone," Troxell said. "Truly, like Gary said, the stars were in line."

The call came in just before 6 p.m. for a structure fire at the Simpson Street duplex where Troxell lived. At the same time, volunteer firefighters were arriving at the fire station just down the street for training, which typically starts at 7 p.m. with a 6:30 rig check, Neff said.

This meant that a veteran commander, Capt. Lynn Fernbaugh, was already nearby along with a sizable group of firefighters, and many other volunteers happened to live nearby and were able to get on the scene quickly.

Even more fortunate, at a time when many volunteer companies are seeing their ranks thin with age, Mechanicsburg had a contingent of young recruits on hand at the critical moment.

At ages 19 and 22, respectively, Archer and Toddes were the search team to first locate Troxell, Neff said. The Aug. 3 incident was Archer's first fire after moving up from a junior member to a fully trained interior firefighter; Toddes, who started as a junior volunteer at age 14, also works as an EMT and is going to nursing school.

"There's nothing better as an incident commander than when Savannah says 'I got it, chief,'" Neff said.

Toddes said she first saw Troxell's shorts on the stairs, where he had collapsed; she and Archer immediately began pulling him down, and other firefighters arrived to help carry him out of the building. At that time, Neff said, much of the second story of the duplex was engulfed in thick, black smoke.

Archer said there wasn't much going through his head at the time, "just the training." But even after rehearsing rescues many times, the real thing is different, Toddes said.

"It was kind of surreal," she said. "I knew there was a victim in there but then once I found him, it just kind of took me a second, like 'this isn't a dummy, it's not training, this is the real thing.'"

Further, Neff said, it was fortunate that an ambulance from Silver Spring EMS happened to be in the area and came to the scene without being called. Even more remarkable, Dr. Richard Luley, an emergency room physician, happened to live nearby and was able to accompany Troxell to the hospital.

"Dr. Luley didn't close those doors, he got in," Neff said.

Troxell has no memory of the rescue, he said. The last thing he can recall is leaving his bedroom to try to get down the stairs; roughly 24 hours later, he came to in the burn unit at Lehigh Valley Hospital Cedar Crest, where he had been taken by helicopter shortly after arriving by ambulance at Holy Spirit Hospital.

In fact, Neff said, it was some hours before fire crews learned that Troxell was expected to live, despite having been taken out of the building with only the faintest of vital signs.

His burn injuries were actually few to none, Troxell said, but he suffered serious lung trauma from smoke inhalation, and was hospitalized for two weeks. He's now living with a co-worker and back at his job, although his respiratory system isn't yet fully recovered.

The fire originated on the back porch of Troxell's unit. State fire marshals have not determined a cause, Neff said.

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Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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