Two Absecon volunteer firefighters who modestly insisted they were just "in the right place at the right time" received valor awards from the Atlantic County Firefighters Association for their actions that resulted in two lives being saved last July.
Fire department veterans Rob Kuhn and Dale Conover said they didn't consider themselves "heroes," noting that any of their fellow firefighters would have responded in the same way.
The two each received a Class Two Valor Award during the 23rd annual Firefighters Valor Awards at the Anthony "Tony" Canale Training Center in Egg Harbor Township. A standing-room-only crowd of about 200 people, representing volunteer fire departments from throughout Atlantic County as well as county and state officials and U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-2nd, attended the event.
"These two men are excellent examples of professionalism and dedication," said Absecon Volunteer Fire Chief Jerry Cohen, who presented the award to Conover. "It makes me proud to have members of my department recognized for their actions."
Because Kuhn was out of town for the ceremony, the fire chief accepted the award on his behalf.
According to their nomination letter, the two men were returning home from one of their summer camping trips in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and were following each other in their campers on the Garden State Parkway when they observed an accident in the Washington Township area with the vehicle on fire. Communicating with their CB radios, they pulled off the highway and ran over to the accident, where they noticed bystanders were trying to get the driver out of the car that was on fire, but he was pinned under the vehicle's dashboard.
Kuhn reached into the vehicle and freed the man so that the other people could pull him to safety. As this was happening, Conover used fire extinguishers he retrieved from their campers to control the fire while the victim was being rescued.
"If it wasn't for the quick actions of Firefighters Kuhn and Conover, this person could have died in the fire," noted Cohen.
Kuhn also received another award, a Meritorious Citation, for an incident that took place earlier during the same camping trip.
According to the report, while setting up his campsite, Kuhn heard people screaming and went to investigate. He found a young girl on the ground not breathing and turning blue. The girl's family members were ineffectively trying to dislodge something from her windpipe. Kuhn identified himself as a trained fire responder and performed the abdomen thrust maneuver two times before the girl coughed up the object and started to breathe normally.
It was noted in his nomination letter that "Firefighter Kuhn's quick action prevented serious problems for the victim."
Conover, 51, has been a member of the Absecon department for 32 years and is a lifelong local resident. His wife, Jill, his two children and his grandchild accompanied him to the ceremony to see him receive the valor award.
"As soon as we realized what was happening, all our training and instincts kicked in. We just reacted to the situation," Conover said in remembering the incident. "I give credit to the rescue personnel who arrived on the scene soon afterward, too."
Kuhn, 45, a third-generation Absecon resident and a member of the fire department for 15 years, said he is still amazed that the two events coincidentally occurred during the same vacation.
"I guess we will always remember that one," he said recently from his home. "I'm just glad both victims survived and that we could help."
The Atlantic County Firefighters Valor Awards program was organized in 1991 to honor emergency personnel and civilians who risked their lives to save others.
Since the program was initiated, 214 recipients have received honors, including fire, police, medical personnel and civilians, Atlantic County Fire Marshal Harold "Whitey" Swartz said.
Also honored during the ceremony were eight firefighters from throughout the county who received recognition for 50 years of active firefighting service. Receiving proclamations, certificates and pins were:
• Chief Charles Mackintosh, Bayview Volunteer Fire Company
• Chief Charles Kisby, Linwood Volunteer Fire Company
• Firefighter Skip Ritchie, Farmington Volunteer Fire Company
• Firefighter Clarence Abbott, Bargaintown Volunteer Fire Company
• Firefighters John Campanella, Louis Marshall and Frank Silvesti, all of the Hammonton Volunteer Fire Company
• Firefighter William Fiore, Longport Volunteer Fire Company
Swartz also got special recognition for his years of dedication to the association. Called "the architect" of both the Valor Awards and the 50-Year Service Awards, he was presented with a proclamation that "thanked, honored and saluted" him for his impact on the firefighting service in Atlantic County. He received a standing ovation from the audience.
Contact Lucia C. Drake: