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Spirit of Courage awards presented

Three passers-by who saved an elderly man from a Bowmanstown fire and a Hometown native who helped rescue two females from a burning Easton home received Valley Preferred Spirit of Courage awards during a virtual presentation Thursday night.

Bowmanstown fire

Gail Strohl, of Lehighton, was on her way home last November when she saw smoke and headed toward a home on Fireline Road with flames pouring out of it.

“A younger girl outside was telling me that her grandfather was still inside,” Strohl said. “The whole front of the house was already in flames.”

Two others, Casey Doherty, of Archbald, and Robert Shotwell, of Palmerton, also saw the smoke and headed toward the fire.

“All three of us looked at each other and said we have to go in,” Shotwell said. “We went in the back of house. It was still visible as I walked into the living room. I was probably 15 feet away from the flames.”

The trio found an elderly man sitting on a chair in an upstairs room, not realizing what was happening around him.

“I knew he had either Alzheimer’s or dementia, but his life was still worth it,” Strohl said. “I would hope anyone in that situation would stop and help. I would want someone there to help my father. I think we should all treat each other the way we would want to be treated.”

They picked him up and carried him outside through thick black smoke and fire, taking him across the street, safely away from a nearby burning car.

“By the time we got to the door of the room he had been in, the smoke got so bad I couldn’t see Casey anymore,” Shotwell said. “Gail guided us down the steps with her voice. I don’t know how much time passed because all of our focus was on saving this man’s life.”

All four were treated for smoke inhalation, and the resident made a full recovery.

“The fire has really changed me,” Doherty said. “You really enjoy what you have because it can change in an instant.”

Bowmanstown Fire Chief Michael Spairana nominated Strohl, Shotwell and Doherty for the Spirit of Courage awards.

“The three of you drove toward a fire when many would have driven away,” Matt Ferdock, president of the Burn Prevention Network, told the trio. “Thanks to you, a girl got to hug her grandfather again.”

Hometown native helps rescue pair

When a fast-moving fire broke out in the early morning hours at a home on South Eighth Street in Easton last July, its two residents climbed out onto a thin roof above a bay window. As fire ravaged the first floor, Andrew Wuttke, a Hometown native and lieutenant with the Easton Fire Department, climbed up a ladder and rescued the first woman.

“When I got off engine, I was ready to go,” Wuttke said. “I grabbed a line right away and one of the police officers grabbed a ladder. As soon as we got to the side of the house, you could see the fire inside the back of the room. I went up and the first lady took a little bit of coaxing.”

While Wuttke was on his way up the ladder for the second victim, the fire exploded through the bay window where the ladder was positioned. Wuttke was thrown from the ladder, and suffered second-degree burns to his hands, neck and face.

“When I went back for the second person, the fire blew out the front window,” he said. The last thing I remember is a face full of fire and my hands were on fire. I just grabbed the rails and slid straight down.”

Flames and smoke engulfed the victim on the roof, and those on the ground were urging her to jump. As Wuttke’s colleague, Justin Pichaj was attempting to climb up the ladder, the woman jumped, suddenly appearing through the thick black smoke. She landed on Pichaj, who sustained head, neck, shoulder and back injuries, and a broken rib.

John B. Bast, retired chief of the Easton Fire Department, nominated Wuttke and Pichaj.

“We don’t have a lot of those type of fires in the city where people are trapped,” Bast said. “What these guys went through in that first couple minutes changed lives. Both of them saved those two women. What I saw them do was unbelievable. I’m very proud of them both.”