Swimming a woman to safety as deadly flood waters swirled on Washington Boulevard. Helping a neighbor escape from a fire. Pulling a fellow firefighter out after a floor collapses below him. Providing support for military families. Working to re-energize a school district. And dedicating more than 10 years to serving the American Red Cross in its mission to help others.
Those words describe the efforts of the six recipients honored Thursday at the American Red Cross' fourth annual Heroes Breakfast, a fundraiser held in the Lexus Club at Consol Energy Center in downtown Pittsburgh. WPXI-TV sportscaster Bill Phillips served as emcee for the program. The recipients were nominated by event committee members and selected by an independent panel of media personnel and community figures.
This year's recipients are:
- Good Samaritan Hero, Christine Marty: Christine Marty, 22, of Sarver, was on the way home from a back-to-school shopping trip with her mother last summer when deadly flash flood waters hit Washington Boulevard. She and her mother, Marion, were able to escape their sinking car but were separated by the current. With water rising nearly nine feet in some areas, Marty heard an elderly woman calling for help. After assisting Romy Connelly out of her car window, Marty held on to her with one arm and swam through the current. When they reached a floating vehicle where another woman was on the roof, she then kept Connelly afloat, praying and talking and singing songs with her, until a rescue canoe eventually arrived.
- Professional Responder Hero, Alex Vogel: Alex Vogel of Baldwin Borough, a volunteer firefighter with the Baldwin Independent Fire Co. No. 1, responded with his fellow firefighters to a large fire on Churchview Avenue in Baldwin Borough earlier this year. As Vogel waited for one of his colleagues to get tools, he heard firefighter Bob Wysocki call out that he had fallen through a floor inside the first-floor kitchen while battling the blaze. Before he could fall all the way through the floor to the home’s basement, Vogel caught him and pulled him to safety.
- Military Hero, Deborah Krall – Deborah Krall of Youngwood served for more than 30 years in the Air National Guard, participating in multiple operations, including Operation Desert Storm and the Global War on Terrorism. Now, Krall serves as the Airman & Family Readiness Program manager for the 171st Air Refueling Wing in Moon Township, where she is responsible for the well-being of 1,400 military members and their families. While unit members are away, family members rely on Krall for information, referrals and moral support. She also works with Operation Military Kids, an organization committed to providing a sense of community for children in military families.
- Lifetime Commitment to the Red Cross Hero, Grant Wilson – Grant Wilson of Mt. Lebanon has been a dedicated Red Cross volunteer for more than 10 years, responding to local home fires and other disasters, and playing a key role in government relations and disaster planning for the Red Cross. He helped to develop the local Community Evacuation Center Team program, a vital initiative that identifies community groups and trains them as Red Cross volunteers, so they can quickly and efficiently open a Red Cross shelter in their community in times of disaster. Formerly a high school math teacher and firefighter/emergency management coordinator with the Mt. Lebanon Fire Department, Wilson uses his background and expertise in emergency management and planning to teach various Red Cross disaster training classes.
- Educator Hero, Karen Murphy – Karen Murphy of Coraopolis has been an active volunteer for the Cornell School District for more than 25 years, 12 of which were spent as a board member and 10 of which were spent as president of the Cornell School District Booster Parents. Murphy also volunteered her time to measure and make alterations for high school athletes’ uniforms and was a key participant in the Central Blood Bank Scholarship Drive benefitting Cornell High School’s senior class. She donated platelets 22 times in 2011. As a former board member, she also played a key role in helping the Cornell School District’s elementary school achieve Blue Ribbon status.
- Youth Hero, Justin Ritchie – Justin Ritchie, a 14-year-old from New Castle, used a ladder to help save a neighbor’s life when her house caught fire. Last November, Justin woke up when he heard a woman calling for help. Upon discovering his neighbor, Charlene McMasters, hanging from an upstairs window of her burning house, Justin ran outside, grabbed a ladder and put it to her window. McMasters began to climb down, though the ladder snapped, and she fell to the ground, suffering a few injuries. She survived the fire and is thankful to Justin for his help.
Also honored at the breakfast was Lucille Underwood of the Allegheny County Department of Human Services' Office of Behavioral Health, who was presented the Red Cross Humanitarian Leadership recognition.