Glassport father-son firefighters honored by insurance company
By Michael DiVittorio
Published: Friday, Feb. 8, 2013, 4:51 a.m.
A Glassport father-and-son firefighting team has been recognized by a national insurance company.
Glassport's Citizens Hose Co. No. 1 fire Chief Wayne Lewis received Liberty Mutual Insurance's Firemark Award for Community Service and Public Education at Thursday night's fire company meeting. Lewis' award was won largely based on his efforts with swiftwater rescue in Allegheny County.
His son, fire Capt. Wayne Lewis III, received Liberty Mutual's Firemark Award for Heroism for his efforts in fighting a three-story funeral home fire along Mitchell Avenue in Clairton on July 29 around 3 a.m.
Chief Lewis, 51, of Glassport leads 39 active members in his company and has 34 years of experience. He started as a firefighter at age 18, and has been chief since 2001.
“In our business, you're only as good as the people that surround you,” he said. “We have great people. This place is like family to all of us. It starts from the 14-year-olds all the way up to the lifetime members of this department. We worked hard. We're getting to be the old-timers around here, but we feel comfortable as lifetime members. We know these young individuals can take this department and lead it to the next generation where we might not be able to take them.
“Each member that's present here today is a great asset to the department as well as the community. It's just not for me, it's about them,” he said.
Deputy fire Chief Jonathan Petrick, a firefighter for the past 14 years, said he has learned a lot from Chief Lewis.
“It's an honor to work under Wayne,” Petrick said. “From the time I was a junior firefighter working under him, I've learned so much from him. His tenure as chief, he's one of the best there is around, one of the most knowledgeable, one of the smartest, calmest chiefs under pressure I've ever seen. We can't be more proud than (to) see him get recognized for an award like this. He definitely deserves it.”
Chief Lewis said a swiftwater rescue committee was formed in 2010 after he spoke with McKeesport deputy fire Chief Chuck Margliotti, who was elected river rescue coordinator for the Mon Valley that year, and former Allegheny County emergency management coordinator Bob Full.
The Allegheny County Swiftwater/Flood Response Team has grown to 71 members. Chief Lewis is the Monongahela and Youghiogheny rivers supervisor. About 22 of those members are from Glassport, Chief Lewis said.
The chief said he's always pushing for more training for his firefighters.
“We always have to make our personnel ready for anything,” he said.
Last summer in Clairton, Capt. Lewis, 24, of Glassport was attempting to extinguish hot spots through the roof of the funeral home after cutting holes in it when he fell and injured his back, hips and legs. “After the ventilation operation's done, it turned into fire suppression where we could extinguish the fire from the roof area,” Capt. Lewis said of the incident. “Whenever we were finishing opening up inspection holes, a little bit of the roof gave way in the corner that was adjoining to the other exposure we did save. I went through down to my hip area, and I was tangled with my air pack.”
Firefighters Frank Cobb and Anthony Foster assisted to remove him. Capt. Lewis' injuries caused him to miss work for four months.
He said he didn't expect to be rewarded.
“It's an honor to get something (when) you do something for free,” he said. “I'd help anybody in a minute. It makes me feel good.”
“It's an honor to receive these two awards from Liberty Mutual for these two firemen we have here,” said fire company president Ray Johnson. “You can't ask for two better volunteer people in this community. They dedicate their time and all their hard work in this company. They're an asset to this fire company. They do a wonderful job. Anything I ask them for they do. I think it's an honor to work with these guys on a day-to-day basis.”
Liberty Mutual sales representative Mark Kurchena and sales intern Jessica Hardin presented the awards.
“I feel honored (to present the awards),” Kurchena said. “People don't realize what these guys go through. If they actually did, maybe they'd be a lot more supportive, I'll say that.”
Liberty Mutual began a local award program 20 years ago to recognize firefighters throughout the country who best represent their communities through courageous acts and who best demonstrate firefighters' selfless spirit.
The award's name comes from the “firemark” — a leaden plate in the form of a phoenix rising from the ashes, which American fire offices in the 18th and 19th centuries used to mark the houses they insured.
The Lewises are in the running for the national award, which comes with a $10,000 donation to the fire company and a four-day vacation for the recipient to Walt Disney World. Winners will be announced in April.
The chief was nominated for the award by members of the community. His son was nominated by those in his department.
The chief said they were not told who actually nominated them.
Michael DiVittorio is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1965, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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