CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- Franklin Firefighter Paul Stoops says he’s usually up for different experiences, but one he doesn’t want to repeat involves hearing a Mayday.
Stoops said his training kicked into high gear upon hearing that dreaded word last March as he approached the scene aboard the ladder truck of Franklin Fire Company 4.
Although the company had been dispatched for a brush fire, they were updated while enroute that it was it was actually a house fire.
Assistant Chief Jason Kuehler said he conducted a 360 of what he originally believed was a single-story rancher. During his size-up, he found it appeared to be a story-and-a-half or larger depending on the sides.
After a neighbor told firefighters he believed the resident may be trapped, Kuehler and others made their way into the burning house. Once inside the mobile home that had been framed and modified a number of times, conditions worsened. Kuehler found himself trapped following a flashover.
Crawling on his stomach, Kuehler said he ended up in the kitchen where he thought there may be a way out. He was wrong.
“I couldn’t get out. I thought about my wife and kids. I called Mayday, Mayday, Mayday! I was burning up. I had no strength…”
Stoops said that word will be forever etched in his mind. “All I knew jumping off the truck was I had to go find him and get him out.”
Moments after he entered the blazing home, Stoops recalled he hit something and noticed the reflective material of Kuehler’s gear. He had him in his grasp, and dragged him to the porch where other firefighters assisted with the removal.
Kuehler was rushed to a local hospital, then flown to the burn unit at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore.
Stoops said the rescue of his buddy hit him hard. “I beat myself up for a while cause I thought I should have found him quicker. But, then Jason and I talked one on one…”
Kuehler says he appreciates everyday what Stoops did for him.
“Because of him, I got to see my wife and kids again…”
Stoops says he's a bit embarassed by all the accolades. "I was just doing what I was taught. It came together..."
Both firefighters added they can’t say enough about the Mayday and RIT training.
Every Monday evening, training sessions on various topics are conducted at their fire station in Chambersburg. Just weeks before the March incident, crews focused on firefighter survival and saving their own techniques.
Kuehler spent 33 days in the burn unit and underwent three surgeries including multiple skin grafts.
On Jan. 2, Kuehler got the news he’d been waiting nearly a year to hear – he was strong enough to return to full duty.
Five days later, he donned his Alexandria, Va. Fire Department uniform, grabbed his turnout gear and returned to work.
Franklin Fire Chief Mark Trace said he is pleased Stoops was selected by Firehouse Magazine for the award.
“It is well deserved. Paul did what he had learned during the drills. He used his skills, and saved Jason…”
Trace went on to say that crews understand how vital those weekly exercises are. “I’ve always been heavy into training for just this reason.”
An after action incident report conducted by fire officials from other jurisdictions would show the mobile home had been renovated a number of times. Smoke was trapped and rolling because the roof was below the porch.
Kuehler said he can’t say enough about Stoops’ actions that night.