South Fayette police Chief John Phoennik commended members of his police force and of the Fairview Volunteer Fire Department at the township commissioners meeting last week for their heroic efforts in responding to a fire in May.
On May 27, a fire broke out in a unit at Valleyfield apartments at 3520 Washington Pike. A resident called 911 and reported that a person might be trapped in the building.
Assistant Fire Chief Keith Dernosek raced directly to the scene. “I live close by,” he said.
He did not have his gear because he did not report to the station first. “I just wanted to get there. I knew every second counted.” Officer Mike Wesolek arrived shortly thereafter.
What ensued was a collective effort to rescue victims from the building. With no protective gear, Assistant Chief Dernosek pulled Wanda Camburn to safety before South Fayette police Officers Mike Zurcher and Collin Griffith, and off-duty Allegheny County police Officer Tim Lagan arrived.
Mrs. Camburn’s husband, Albert Camburn, 80, was bedridden. Assistant Chief Dernosek and Officer Zurcher broke through a neighboring wall to rescue him. Minutes later, fire Chief Dan Dernosek called dispatch to notify them that Mr. Camburn had not survived.
His wife did survive and was treated for smoke inhalation at a hospital. A dog also was rescued.
“Yes, this is tragic, but our focus should also be on the life that was saved,” Chief Phoennik said at the June 10 meeting.
“I think that our police and volunteer fire department did an outstanding job,” Commissioner Raymond Pitetti said. “They are incredibly professional and highly skilled.”
“We are lucky to have them,” Commissioner Joe Horowitz said.
Commissioner Jessica Cardillo-Wagenhoffer called them heroes. “They all deserve commendation for everything that they do every day,” she said.
Amy Philips-Haller, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.