Eagle Scout Creating Memorial to Pa. Fallen Responders

Ryan Vanauken is honoring the memory of a relative, a firefighter, who died in an explosion before he was born.


June 13--PLEASANT GAP -- Ryan Vanauken found inspiration in a family story that helped lead to his Eagle Scout project -- one that would serve as a memorial to local heroes who died in the line of duty.

The memorial is located at Central Pennsylvania Institute of Science and Technology's Centre County Public Safety Training Center in Pleasant Gap, and is open to the public.

It includes a mulch and stone pathway leading to two benches surrounded by a brick wall.

This summer, Vanauken, of Bellefonte, wants to add a flagpole and a boulder with an engraved plaque to the space.

The plaque would say something like, "This is a place to memorialize all the first responders who have fallen," Vanauken said.

About three years ago, the CPI graduate came up with the idea as he was thinking about his Eagle Scout project.

The idea was inspired after Vanauken heard of a family member who lost his life responding to a fire in Allentown.

"I want it to be a quiet area for people to come and remember them," Vanauken said. "They have memorials all over and we needed one here."

Vanauken said his relative -- a former Allentown firefighter -- was on his way to a six-alarm fire while off-duty and was killed in a gas explosion at the scene. The incident happened before Vanauken, 18, was born.

"I remembered that I had a line-of-duty death in my family," he said. "This seemed really important to have."

Earlier this year, Vanauken drew a plan of how he imagined the memorial would look, and then approached CPI about constructing the memorial on its property.

"It was a great idea," said MaryAnn Volders, director of secondary education. "It's a nice memorial."

Ground was broken April 27 and the first phase was finished May 7, Vanauken said. The second phase includes adding the flagpole and rock monument.

The Centre County Ambulance Association donated $500 toward the project. The Walker Township Volunteer Fire Company also donated $500, a scoutmaster gave $100 and Snow Shoe EMS donated $50, Vanauken said.

Vanauken said those funds would support the total project.

Rich Kelley, clinical supervisor at Mount Nittany Medical Center and vice president for the Centre County Ambulance Association, said the organization is proud to support the project.

"The memorial will serve as a keen reminder of the incredible bravery that these individuals displayed," Kelley said.

But for Vanauken, it's something he wanted to do out of the goodness of his heart.

"It's something we needed," he said. "I would have liked to do something like this whether it was for the Eagle Scout project or not."

Britney Milazzo can be reached at 231-4648. Follow her on Twitter @ M11azzo.

Copyright 2014 - Centre Daily Times (State College, Pa.)