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Firefighters recognized with awards for livesaving efforts

Gallitzin firefighters Lucas Harris (left) and Eric Raneri were presented Valor Awards by Cambria County President Commissioner Tom Chernisky on Friday at the Queen of Peace Church in Patton. Harris and Raneri were awarded for their efforts in stopping a friend from attempting suicide in February. Mirror photo by Calem Illig

PATTON– Three individuals who served above and beyond the call of duty were honored in a ceremony Friday at the Queen of Peace Church in Patton.

Kyla Holtz, Gallitzin Junior Firefighters Evan Raneri and Lucas Harris were all presented with Valor Awards for their

lifesaving efforts this past year.

“These are true heroes in front of us here today,” said Cambria County Commissioner William B.J. Smith, who himself was a previous Valor Award recipient. “God blesses ordinary people to do extraordinary things at a crucial time, and these three people here did just that.”

Raneri and Harris, both 16, received awards of valor after stopping a friend during a suicide attempt.

On the evening of Feb. 11, Raneri and Harris were hanging out together when they received a picture from a best friend with a gun and bullets on his bed, stating he was going to “end it all.”

The pair dropped what they were doing and raced across town. After entering their friend’s residence, they found a shotgun in the friend’s hands.

“We dropped everything and raced over there,” Harris said. “It was just an instinct.”

Harris and Raneri disarmed the friend, removed additional bullets from the room and helped the friend receive proper care.

“He’s like a brother to us, and we wanted to make sure he was OK,” Raneri said.

Gallitzin Fire Chief James Nagle, who nominated the firefighters for the award, said without the efforts of the two, the situation could have ended tragically.

“(They) could have ignored that text message and checked it later,” Nagle said. “They could have not taken their friend’s message seriously and blew him off. But they didn’t, and because of that, I am happy to say that their friend is getting the help he needs.”

Holtz was honored for acts of courage after saving a life during a house fire May 12.

Both members of the household, Holtz and Kari Lingenfelter, were sleeping when a fire broke out in the kitchen shortly after 5 a.m.

Holtz awoke to the house full of flames, and she immediately went to the bedroom to alert Lingenfelter, who was still asleep.

“I woke up and the house was completely full of smoke,” Holtz said. “I didn’t even realize what was going on — it just happened so fast. Everything was on fire in just a matter of seconds. I just knew we had to get out of there.”

As the two women made their way out of the bedroom, Lingenfelter fell and struck her head, leaving her disoriented and with a large laceration on her head.

With the smoke impeding her vision and made it difficult to breathe, Holtz guided Lingenfelter to the door and out of the building.

“I’m just happy I was there to be able to help get her out,” Holtz said. “It’s still really emotional, but it’s taught me to never take any day for granted. You have to enjoy every day while you still have it, because one day, it might not be there.”

Lingenfelter collapsed on the porch after making it outside, and Holtz dragged her off the porch and to the front yard.

Holtz then flagged down a bystander to call 911.

Both women, who have now recovered, were transported to a local hospital for smoke inhalation and burns.

“Kyla showed a tremendous amount of bravery and was extremely deserving of this award,” said Ashville Fire Chief Joe Racz, who co-signed Holtz’s nomination for the award along with Glendale Fire Chief Adam Rydbom.

“In my 40 years as fire chief, I have seen many structure fires. Based on the condition of the home on our arrival and the condition that we found the women in, there is no doubt Kyla saved her life. They were within minutes of being unable to escape the home,” he said. “Kyla was a true hero.”

Patton firefighter recognized for dedication

A longtime member of the Patton Fire Company No. 1 was recognized for his lifelong commitment to the fire service.

Dean Smith, who has been a firefighter for the past 70 years, was presented the Steve Unger Award for his ongoing service to the community.

“Dean has dedicated countless years to the community,” said Eric Miller, a member of the Johnstown Fire Department that presented Smith the award. “He still travels to the fire school site to make sure the gate is open, and he checks on the site daily.”

Smith joined the fire service in 1951 and held numerous ranks with the department, including fire chief.

He was a founder of the Cambria County Fire School in Patton and worked as the site director, and county officials said he remains an avid supporter of the site.

“Training saves lives,” Smith said. “There is always something you can do to become a better firefighter.”

The Steve Unger Outstanding Achievement Award, named after the former Conemaugh firefighter, is awarded to firefighters who dedicated their lives to public service.

Smith was a former president of the Cambria County Regional Firefighters’ Association, and he remains active with the Patton Fire Company as well.

“I want to do everything I can to help the younger members,” Smith said. “We always need people to do this job, and I want to help these younger members grow and become great firefighters.”

Chernisky Classic raises nearly $9K

Cambria County President Commissioner Tom Chernisky presented the Cambria County Regional Firefighters’ Association with a check in the amount of $8,965.52.

The funds were raised through the seventh annual Chernisky Classic held July 10, and Chernisky said 100% of the funds went to the county association.

All of the funds raised will be put toward training and equipment at the Cambria County Fire School.

“These men and women train constantly to save lives and to save property,” Chernisky said. “We need to do everything we can to keep them safe so they can do their job. Firefighters are the fabric of our community, and this is a way to give back to them so they can get the proper skills and resources to effectively do their job.”

Mirror Staff Writer Calem Illig is at 814-946-7535.

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