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Ross resident gets hero's honor

The family came to celebrate Paul Shields’ recent award as the Ross resident was named one of five people chosen for the Larry Richert Honors Hometown Heroes program in March. From left, they are sister Taylor Shields, Paul Shields, parents Patti and Mike Shields, and grandmother Jill Sarver.

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Wednesday, April 17, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

“I felt like a little fish in a big pond,” said Paul Shields, one of five “Hometown Heroes” who were celebrated at the Lexus Club at PNC Park in Pittsburgh.

The others honored last month, he said, “had done amazing things their entire lives. Me, I just had one morning of good actions.”

But those actions saved the lives of neighbors whose Ross Township home was on fire.

The Heyl family had returned home from Black Friday shopping and had tucked themselves into bed. Shields, 20, saw smoke coming from their house.

“I ran over and was banging on the door,” he said. “I was ready to start kicking the door down.”

As Jeff Heyl opened the door and alerted his family, flames were coming from the house's back corner, Shields said. Fire companies soon arrived, while neighbors watched.

“My mom was screaming at me to hide in the bathroom,” said Shields, a junior at Penn State University in State College. “She thought the house was going to explode.”

Later, a detective came over to shake his hand. Soon, Shields arrived at Willi's Ski and Skateboard Shop in Ross Township, just a few minutes late to work.

Shields had thought his story would make the 6 o'clock new, but it aired that morning. Two of his co-workers had seen the report.

“While I was fitting a girl for ski boots, the manager came up to me and asked, ‘What did you do this morning?'”

Until that moment, Shields hadn't said a word about the unusual start to his day. But that was pretty much in character for the young man, according to James Stolze, a family friend and the one who nominated Shields for the award.

The Larry Richert Honors Hometown Heroes program celebrates “ordinary individuals who have done extraordinary things” with a trophy and $1,000 to be given to the winner's favorite charity. More than 40 people were nominated.

Shields' donation will go to THON, the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon that raises money to fight childhood cancer.

“He was worthy. It was something a hero would do,” said Stolze, 61, of Scott Township. “He put his life on the line for people. He saved a family.”

Stolze had seen the story on the news and asked Shields' mother, an employee, about it.

“Hometown Heroes was the perfect thing for Paul,” he said. “I'm not surprised he was chosen. I'm pleased.”

Stolze recalled visiting Willi's and watching Shields at work.

“People kept coming to him for help. Paul was like a magnet,” Stolze said. “He was trying to help everyone. That personifies him. He's just someone people like to be around and to work with.”

He's appreciative — but a little shy — about the publicity that began one ordinary November morning. For Shields, it was simple: “I was just in the right place at the right time and doing the right thing.”

Dona S. Dreeland is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6353 or

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