Two from South Hills among six Red Cross heroes

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Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said there are two kinds of heroes: those who shine in the face of great adversity and those who do their work unceremoniously.

The American Red Cross honored six heroes from both categories -- two winners from the South Hills -- at the annual Heroes Breakfast at the Lexus Club at the Consol Energy Center.

Some earned the award through a single act, others routinely give their time for others.

Here is a snapshot of this year's winners.

Alex Vogel, Baldwin Borough

March 3 was another day on the job for Mr. Vogel when he and other firefighters responded to a fire on Churchview Avenue in the borough. Mr. Vogel and Bob Wysocki, both volunteers with the Baldwin Independent Fire Company No. 1, were on the hose line when Mr. Wysocki suddenly screamed for help -- he had fallen through a floor inside the burning building's first-floor kitchen.

With smoke so thick that Mr. Vogel said he couldn't see his hand in front of his face, he reached down and pulled his friend to safety.

Of his award as Professional Responder Hero, Mr. Vogel said: "It feels good. ... I got to save one of my best friends."

"I just did what I was trained to do," he said.

Grant Wilson of Mt. Lebanon

After dedicating 35 years to the safety of others, Mr. Wilson -- who won the Lifetime Commitment to Red Cross Award -- now employs his expertise to help people avert disaster. Since his retirement as a firefighter/emergency management coordinator with the Mt. Lebanon Fire Department, Mr. Wilson has been a Red Cross volunteer for more than 10 years, involved in government relations and disaster planning.

Mr. Wilson became involved with the Red Cross while working for the fire department. Drawing on his experience in emergency management, he volunteered to help develop a program for evacuations at elder care facilities.

He has since assisted in the development of the local Community Evacuation Center Team program, an initiative that identifies community groups and trains members as volunteers to open a local shelter quickly in times of disaster.

He also teaches disaster training classes.

"I'm no different than all those folks out there who are trying to do good things," he said.

Deborah Krall of Youngwood

Master Sgt. Krall has served for more than 30 years in the Air National Guard, primarily in the chaplain's office. She has participated in Operation Desert Storm and the Global War on Terrorism. Her military decorations include the Air Force Commendation Medal with two devices and the Humanitarian Service Medal.

For the past 11 years, she has worked as the Airman and Family Readiness program manager for the 171st Air Refueling Wing in Moon, where she is responsible for helping some 1,400 military members and families.

She also works with Operation Military Kids.

Most difficult, she said, are the times when she's called upon to comfort family members during a tragedy.

"You're out there doing your job ... doing the right thing," she said. "It's not a heroic act, but maybe it is making a difference."

Karen Murphy of Coraopolis

Every other Sunday, Mrs. Murphy donates platelets for the Cornell School District at the Central Blood Bank's Cranberry Donor Center.

Credit for her donations goes toward the district's blood drives and makes the district eligible to receive scholarship money from the blood bank.

Mrs. Murphy has donated platelets an average of 20 times a year for five years and reached her 100th donation in January.

Giving back to the school her two children attended is nothing new for Mrs. Murphy. She has served on the school board since 1999.

She was also vice president of the Parent Teacher Organization, organized fundraisers, helped with the school's annual Santa Shop, sewed costumes for school plays and did clothing alterations on band uniforms.

Some of her handiwork hangs on the walls of the school as WPIAL banners.

This generous spirit has translated into Mrs. Murphy's home life as well: She and husband David have fostered 25 children over the past 20 years.

"We have been blessed, so we pass that along," she said. "That's all there is to it."

Christine Marty of Sarver

Ms. Marty said fear was the last thing on her mind last summer when she was caught in a flash flood that sank more than a dozen cars on Washington Boulevard. She climbed out of her own sunken vehicle to swim to the vehicle of Romy Connolly of Lower Burrell, who was calling for help.

After assisting Ms. Connolly out of her car window, Ms. Marty held on to her with one arm and swam through the current. Ms. Marty kept her afloat, praying and talking and singing songs until help arrived.

"The strangest thing is that I never at any point was afraid," said Ms. Marty, who won the Good Samaritan Award.

The 22-year-old recently graduated from Muhlenberg College in Allentown and said that saving Ms. Connolly's life has made her more appreciative.

"It made me aware that you never know what the day is going to bring," she said.

The two women have since met for dinner and talk on the phone.

"I feel blessed that I had the strength and skills to help in that way," she said.

Justin Ritchie of New Castle

Justin was 15 years old when, on Thanksgiving break in November 2011, he was awakened by his dog barking around 5:30 a.m. He heard a woman call for help and found his neighbor, 74-year-old Charlene McMasters, hanging from an upstairs window of her burning house.

Justin ran outside, grabbed a ladder and put it to her window. While Mrs. McMasters was climbing down, the ladder snapped and she fell, but suffered only minor injuries.

"I just did it," he said. "My mind was running and before I knew it I was running to get a ladder."

Justin visited Mrs. McMasters in the hospital where he said she expressed her gratitude. The two had previously exchanged only simple pleasantries. Now the pair keep in contact, even though she has moved.

"I think everybody would have done something to help her."


Shannon M. Nass, freelance writer:


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