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Springdale firefighter awarded for heroism; Plum firemen, police honored

Brian C. Rittmeyer
| Thursday, June 23, 2016, 12:34 p.m.
Lt. Kris Bendinelli, 24, of the Springdale Volunteer Fire Department, poses for a portrait in his ladder truck on Monday, June 20, 2016. Bendinelli will receive an award for heroism on Friday from the Allegheny County Volunteer Firefighters Association for saving a wheelchair-bound man from his burning apartment in the Springdale Manor high-rise.
Dan Speicher | For The Tribune-Review
Lt. Kris Bendinelli, 24, of the Springdale Volunteer Fire Department, poses for a portrait in his ladder truck on Monday, June 20, 2016. Bendinelli will receive an award for heroism on Friday from the Allegheny County Volunteer Firefighters Association for saving a wheelchair-bound man from his burning apartment in the Springdale Manor high-rise.
Lt. Kris Bendinelli, 24, of the Springdale Volunteer Fire Department, poses for a portrait in his ladder truck on Monday, June 20, 2016. Bendinelli will receive an award for heroism on Friday from the Allegheny County Volunteer Firefighters Association for saving a wheelchair-bound man from his burning apartment in the Springdale Manor high-rise.
DAN SPEICHER | For the Tribune-Review
Lt. Kris Bendinelli, 24, of the Springdale Volunteer Fire Department, poses for a portrait in his ladder truck on Monday, June 20, 2016. Bendinelli will receive an award for heroism on Friday from the Allegheny County Volunteer Firefighters Association for saving a wheelchair-bound man from his burning apartment in the Springdale Manor high-rise.

Volunteer firefighter Kris Bendinelli knew what he was walking into answering a fire call at the Springdale Manor high-rise in April.

But he wasn't prepared for what happened when he called out into a smoke-filled apartment.

“I was surprised someone answered me,” he said.

Bendinelli will receive a heroism award from the Allegheny Volunteer Firefighter's Association for his actions April 7 in rescuing a 72-year-old man, who uses a wheelchair, from the high-rise fire.

He'll get the award Friday during the association's convention at the West Homestead fire hall.

Five firefighters from the Unity Volunteer Fire Department in Plum, along with three Plum police officers, are also receiving heroism awards.

They are credited with saving a family of seven from a house fire on Cherrywood Drive on Feb. 20.

“It's a recognition of their service of what they've done,” association President Bob Aston said. “These guys do this for nothing. They go in, they save lives, they really don't want any recognition for it.”

Bendinelli, 24, who started as a junior firefighter seven years ago, said he was surprised his actions had earned him an award.

“I'd expect anyone else in my department to do the same thing,” he said. “I was in the right place at the right time.”

But Springdale Assistant Fire Chief Dan Copeland said things could have turned out very differently if not for Bendinelli's quick actions that morning.

Copeland said he was still getting his gear on when Bendinelli, a truck lieutenant, went into the building alone.

“If he had waited for me, it would've been a different outcome,” Copeland said. “There was no way for (the resident) to get out of there.”

A candle had ignited the fire in a sixth-floor apartment around dawn.

Knowing that many of the building's residents are disabled, firefighters left shorthanded upon learning it wasn't just a false alarm, Bendinelli said.

Bendinelli gathered his equipment and tools and quickly made his way to the sixth floor by himself. He went to the door where the smoke was coming from, and it was hot to the touch.

He opened the door and called out. It's something Bendinelli said he's done at fires before — standard procedure — but this was the first time someone answered him.

The man made just enough noise for Bendinelli to find him.

He had to make his way through smoke so thick he couldn't see his hand in front of him, and a foot-and-a-half of water on the floor from the sprinklers that had mostly put out the fire.

“I was able to follow his voice in the smoke and found him in the bathroom in his wheelchair,” he said.

The man didn't answer when Bendinelli asked if he could walk. He got the resident out in the wheelchair and used the elevator to descend and get out of the building.

Bendinelli said he's not an excitable person, and he wasn't afraid. He didn't suffer any injuries in the rescue.

“I take what I'm given and do what needs to be done,” he said. “The only thing that crossed my mind was: I hope this person isn't much bigger than I am.”

Bendinelli said he hasn't seen the man since the fire. According to Copeland, after being hospitalized, the man was sent to a skilled nursing facility.

“We're extremely proud of what he did,” Copeland said. “He's been a great asset to the fire company since he started as a junior firefighter. He works really hard, he trains hard. He's constantly learning. His training, and how he trains, paid off.”

Brian C. Rittmeyer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-226-4701 or brittmeyer@tribweb.com.

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