York City firefighters honored for saving lives, helping others
York City's 2016 career firefighter of the year started running to fire scenes before he could drive.
Kevin Holtzapple has been a York City firefighter for 25 years, since 1992, but he still has passion and enthusiasm for the job, which he now shares with the younger firefighters he trains and mentors, York City Fire Chief David Michaels said.
The chief honored a number of firefighters and community members at the York City Department of Fire and Rescue's annual awards ceremony Tuesday at City Hall.
Holtzapple, 51, grew up across the street from Eagle Fire Co.'s station in Mount Wolf and looked up to his uncle, Greg Holtzapple, who was a career firefighter in York City.
"Firefighting is in my blood, I guess you could say," Holtzapple said.
He started volunteering around the Eagle firehouse as a kid — washing firetrucks, sweeping floors — and became a junior firefighter there when he was 14.
His parents allowed him to be a junior firefighter as long as he kept his grades up, Holtzapple said, adding that their rule kept him out of trouble and away from drugs and alcohol.
Loves the excitement: Instead, he got high on the adrenaline of rushing to a fire scene and helping neighbors.
"I would run all the way from Northeastern High School into Mount Wolf ... and up to the firehouse" when the fire siren sounded, Holtzapple recalled, adding he loves the job as much today as he did as a teen, "if not more."
He looks forward to going to work every day and thrives on never knowing what the next call for help will entail. He's senior firefighter in the department's A Platoon but still wants to be in the thick of the firefighting fray.
Asked whether he lets younger colleagues do the interior firefighting work, Holtzapple joked that sometimes he trips the younger guys "so I can get to the nozzle."
Michaels recalled a fire in the 300 block of East Poplar Street in 2015, where crews rushed inside, having been told people were trapped.
Saved lives: The residents had escaped, but at the time firefighters didn't know it. They kept searching inside, unaware the fire was "taking off," according to Michaels.
Holtzapple was running the ladder truck that day. He realized flames were about to overwhelm firefighters and immediately called "mayday," the chief said.
That gave the crew inside the building time to escape, although two firefighters suffered minor burns, he said.
"Had Kevin not called out (the mayday), we'd have had dead firefighters," Michaels said.
Holtzapple and his wife, Tammy, live in Manchester Township with their daughter Kailey, who is turning 13, and 8-year-old son Kameron. Holtzapple also has two adult daughters, Lauren and Allison.
Volunteer honored: Michaels also named the city's 2016 volunteer firefighter of the year at the ceremony — 73-year-old David Sheasley, one of three triplets raised in York City.
Sheasley has volunteered countless hours to the department since 1964, the chief said, and is currently both captain and president of Lincoln fire station. He also is president of the city's Volunteer Firefighter Relief Association.
It's the second time Sheasley has been honored with the award. The first time was in 1998, he said.
He's spent more than 1,000 hours simply attending training sessions.
"They're like brothers to me," Sheasley said of his fellow firefighters.
When his wife, Patricia, died in 2015, firefighters heard the medical call at the couple's home and most rushed over.
Sheasley said after he became a widower, the department supported him like family.
Citizen honored: York City resident Zavaan Butts was honored for spotting a fire in two row homes in the 600 block of Salem Avenue.
Butts banged on the door at 600, alerting a mother and her children who safely escaped, Michaels said. Butts then banged on the door of 602 but got no response.
That's when he crawled in an open window and found a woman and her child asleep. He woke them up, and they, too, made it out unharmed, the chief said.
"He saw a situation where people were in danger, but he didn't hesitate to help," Michaels said, and put his own life at risk to save others.
Speaking quietly and briefly, Butts told the standing-room-only crowd, "I think the world is a better place when we help each other."
Saving Cheyann: Michaels honored a dozen firefighters for their efforts to save Cheyann Miller, a young mother struck and pinned between two vehicles by a drugged driver on Aug. 10, 2016.
Miller was on hand and told the firefighters, "I'm so grateful to you guys. ... You guys saved my life."
Honored were: Deputy Fire Chief Chad Deardorff, Assistant Fire Chief Ed Hamilton, Capt. Bill Sleeger and firefighters Kevin Pflaum, Randy Rauhauser, Erik Swanson, Jonathan Spencer, Chuck Sleeger, Shawn Caruso, Michael Zaler, Arthur Harman and Holtzapple.
Chief's commendation: Four firefighters received chief's commendations for rescuing a resident from a burning home in the 300 block of West Philadelphia Street on Jan. 31, 2016.
Two White Rose Ambulance emergency medical technicians — Scott Kurtz and William Summe — also were recognized for their contribution.
The EMTs spotted smoke in the building and alerted 911, Michaels said.
Heavy smoke: Smoke inside the building was too heavy for them to get to a second-floor resident, but they found a third-floor resident and got her out safely, the chief said.
Both EMTs were treated for smoke inhalation, Michaels said.
Responding firefighters then found and saved an unconscious resident on the second floor after forcing open the person's apartment door, despite enduring extreme heat conditions.
The woman was in serious condition, but she recovered, the chief said.
Receiving chief's commendations were: Capt. Adam Smith and firefighters Shawn Firestone, Marc Ott and Shawn Caruso.
Fire victim saved: Oct. 29 was one of the busiest days in the history of the York City Fire Department, according to Michaels.
Crews were called to three working fires in 45 minutes, one of which went to three alarms, he said.
Three firefighters were already battling a blaze in the 200 block of South Duke Street when they were called to go to the 400 block of South George Street.
There, they found a multi-unit apartment building with someone trapped inside.
Despite heavy smoke, they found a victim on the third floor and were able to get the person safely outside using a fire escape, Michaels said.
Honored were firefighters Anthony Caruso, Malachi Cochran and Bryan Smallwood.
State Rep. Carol Hill-Evans, D-York City, was one of several officials in attendance and presented Holtzapple, Sheasley and Butts with congratulatory certificates.
Also recognized at the ceremony were the Kiltie Band of York, because "firefighters love bagpipes," Michaels said; the Rev. Kevin Shively of St. Matthew Evangelical Lutheran Church, who serves as the fire department's chaplain; and Dr. Matthew Howie, medical director for the City of York and executive director of the York Regional Opiate Collaborative.
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.