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American Red Cross 'angels' aid Greensburg mentor

| Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

Volunteers who have been trained by Michael Felice, the director of emergency services at the American Red Cross, have stepped up to help their mentor.

On Oct. 26, Felice, 53, of Greensburg suffered a heart attack.

Since then, those he has trained in the past have stepped up to fulfill his duties during his absence. Those responsibilities include training volunteers who respond to fires and others who go to disaster scenes both near and far.

“I'm so proud of them. They are doing a great job. They are taking over the training and basically doing my job,” Felice said.

Felice, who has held the paid position for 10 years, started out as a volunteer.

Over the years, Felice has trained hundreds of volunteers in Westmoreland and Armstrong County. When Hurricane Katrina hit the United States in August 2005, more than 200 people were trained in three days.

Now, about 20 volunteers are helping out the man who trained them by filling in for him at the Westmoreland-Armstrong Chapter of the American Red Cross in the city.

“The volunteers deserve recognition. They go the extra mile, day and night. They are the angels of the American Red Cross,” Felice said.

His “angels” are covering daily disaster calls, mostly fires in Westmoreland County. They are on call for 24 hours, at the ready to assist victims facing the devastation of fires destroying their homes.

Jane Murtland, a seven-year volunteer from Greensburg and a Clara Barton Award winner, has taken over the disaster phone line, dispatching emergency calls to volunteers.

“I think it's great that everyone is stepping up to volunteer. We all have our own specialties of what we want to do, and we are trained to assist in many situations,” Murtland said.

Disaster program manager Georgia Lehman of Indiana fills in for Felice, traveling to Greensburg to assist with disaster duties, daily phone calls, paperwork and supervision of volunteers.

“I think it is wonderful that volunteers have been coming into the office and responding to the incidents that occur in Westmoreland County,” Lehman said. “It is because of the many volunteers we have that the Red Cross is able to do the work it does.”

Felice said he was at the gym for a Saturday workout when he had his heart attack. He was taken to Excela Westmoreland Hospital in Greensburg, where doctors brought him back from the brink of death, he said.

He said he eventually underwent stent surgery. In such procedures, wire-mesh tubes are inserted into previously blocked coronary arteries.

“God must have a plan for me,” Felice said.

Felice, who has since been released from the hospital, said he was shocked and pleased by the support he has received.

“I can't believe how many people have come to see me,” Felice said. “I've received over 100 cards from people all over that I have worked with, including the fire and police departments. It is unreal.”

Early next month, he is scheduled to return to work, where his duties also entail training communities to prepare for disasters.

“I love what I do,” Felice said. “We make a difference in people's lives and it's so rewarding.”

A recent update to his work colleagues advised: “Michael is special to all of us, so please keep him in your prayers.”

Stacy Skiavo is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.