Emotions ran deep Monday afternoon in Tamaqua.
At a ceremony held in borough hall, a community recognized six local heroes who risked their lives to save another. At the same time, the accident victim and his wife showed up to offer heartfelt thanks.
The recognition ceremony recalled unusual events of Monday morning, June 28, when plumber Dan Reigel was buried alive at the bottom of a trench about nine feet deep while installing a new sewer line at a Lombard Street residence.
Without oxygen and his body compressed by the collapsed dirt, Reigel felt himself fading away and was about to give up. However, his life was saved through a miraculous rescue by volunteer paramedics and firemen, one of whom lived next door to the cave-in.
Representatives of the state Occupational Safety and Health Administration reportedly said that most similar trench collapses result in fatalities.
Mayor Christian Morrison hosted Monday's event to publicly acknowledge the outstanding accomplishment that took place in the community two months ago.
"We're here to thank folks for extraordinary behavior and to honor them for it," said Morrison, explaining what happened to Reigel and how "friends and neighbors came out and saved his life."
Reigel is still recuperating from injuries.
Those honored were: Michael Bright, next door neighbor to the accident site and a 30-year paramedic; Jay Hollenbach Jr., and Jay Stidham Jr., two firemen who responded to the scene in the capacity of volunteers with the Tamaqua Rescue Squad; Richard Greim of Tamaqua and Robert Montesrin of Summit Hill, employees of Dan Reigel Plumbing and Heating; and backhoe operator Stephen Horst of Lewistown Valley, owner of Horst Excavating.
By coincidence, Hollenbach is a plumbing and heating contractor like Reigel with many years of experience. Despite operating competing businesses, the two men are friends and share a brotherhood as members of Tamaqua American Hose Co.
The accident and miraculous rescue caught the attention of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. State Rep. Jerry P. Knowles, R-124, was on hand to present each rescuer with a citation from the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.
The citation states, in part, that the six men "dug Mr. Reigel out of the collapsed trench within minutes. True heroes, their quick and unflinching response to that life-threatening situation reflects most highly on them and will long be remembered and appreciated."
In addition, the citation notes that the men "put aside their own safety in the face of danger for the good of others."
Knowles told those in attendance that the six men have distinguished themselves.
"All of us wish that we'd respond like these people did," he said, turning to face the men. "You are heroes. You jeopardized your own lives."
Reigel and wife Carol were on hand to meet the men and offer gratitude. Reigel said he is trying to return to a sense of normalcy and is doing his best to return to work.
"It's eerie knowing that my life was saved. Today was the first day I was back since the accident," he said.
In an especially moving moment, Reigel turned and spoke to the rescuers.
"I have six guardian angels and it's something my family and I will never forget."
A full-page feature story about the cave-in and resulting rescue appeared in the TIMES NEWS on Friday, Aug. 6, and can be accessed online at http://www.tnonline.com/node/123151.