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Jeannette fire, EMT and police honored with awards

| Wednesday, March 27, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
Sgt. Jose Gonzales, Mayor/Safety Officer Robert Carter, firefighter EMT Robert Scott, firefighter Jared Laskey, firefighter Lt. Jim 'Zeke' Zitkovich and firefighter EMT Ryan Highlands are honored for their work during a March 2012 fire on Lowry Avenue in which Highlands and firefighter Lt. Tony Kottelich fell through a the floorboards and needed to be rescued.
EMT Amanda Cafasso, EMT Brandon Stape, paramedic Greg Berardinelli, firefigher James Swartz, firefighter EMt Robert Scott, EMT Randy Highlands, firefighter EMT Ryan Highlands and firefighter Lt. Rich Ault are honored for their work during a February 2012 fire on Chestnut Street in which Swartz was injured by a piece of a broken window.
Kristie Linden | The Jeannette Spirit
Jeannette Fire Chief Joe Matijevic presents honors to police Cpl. Jeff Stahl and firefighter Randy Gelder for their actions during the October 2011 fire at Mason Gelder Funeral Home.

Jeannette City Fire Chief Joe Matijevic presented awards to six firefighters, two police officers and six EMS personnel who have performed life-saving actions in the city.

“All of our award winners tonight are people who, without warning, faced a risk and responded with courage, intelligence and instinctive reflex to do the right thing,” said Matijevic.

Firefighter James Swartz was presented a Purple Heart by Thomas Ondo, junior vice commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart in Pennsylvania.

Firefighter Randy Gelder and police Cpl. Jeff Stahl were honored for their work during the Mason Gelder Funeral Home fire. The two men put themselves at risk to rescue a coffin containing human remains. The men received the Medal of Valor for going above and beyond the call of duty.

Swartz, fire Lt. Rich Ault, paramedic Greg Bertinelli, EMT Brandon Stape, EMT Randy Highlands, EMT Amanda Cafasso, EMT firefighter Ryan Highlands and EMT firefighter Robert Scott were honored for their efforts in a February 2012 fire on Chestnut Street.

During the fire department's attack of the blaze, Swartz was gearing up to enter the fire when a window was blown out of the structure. A piece of the glass hit the back of his neck, coming within a centimeter of his carotid artery. Ault was the first to assist Swartz and helped to control the bleeding. Swartz care was taken over at that time by Jeannette EMS personnel. These men and women earned the Medal of Courage for “their effort while at great personal risk having been instrumental in rescuing and saving another person,” Matijevic said.

Fire Lt. Tony Kottelich, Highlands, fire Lt. James Zitkovich, Mayor Robert Carter, firefighter Jared Laskey, Scott and police Sgt. Jose Gonzales were honored for their actions in a March 2012 fire on Lowry Avenue. Kottelich and Highlands made the initial entry to the property and fell through a hole in the floor into the basement, which was heavily involved with fire. While rescuing the men, Zitkovich had to extinguish a flame that was closing in on Highlands as he exited the basement on a ladder.

“All of these fine men put their own lives at risk by not wearing their full protective clothing, putting themselves in harm's way and taking the risk of falling into the property's basement themselves,” Matijevic said.

They all earned the Medal of Valor, the highest individual award given to a firefighter for life-saving actions. Kottelich and Highlands also received Medals of Courage for performing their duty and showing initiative and capability.

Kristie Linden is an editor for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at or 724-838-5154.