They call him “Hero” – and that he is.
Young Joseph Volk, just 23, always wanted to grow up to be a fireman. He did, and on this awful Monday afternoon, he lay motionless on the ground, surrounded by bricks and debris that had blown up around him while he and others fought a house fire west of Rock Hill.
His helmet and air pack were still over his head. His face could not be seen.
Just feet away lay Rich Diamanti, a fellow fireman from the Newport Fire Department. Older, mid-50s, firefighter from New Jersey who retired to York County, bringing with him the burning in his gut to help others. That fire never goes out.
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Explosions can’t put it out.
Diamanti’s leg was clearly injured as he lay no more than eight feet from Volk. Other firefighters and emergency people rushed to help the fallen, as smoke churned and nobody knew if there were going to be more explosions.
The firefighters were sooty and hot and drenched in sweat, but they did not stop helping. They hustled and ran and worked on the men. For people like me – on the scene just afterward, looking at two men down – it was a scene of awful greatness.
Injuries, unknown how bad at the time. And lay people – the untrained, the curious, me – helpless to help.
But the trained people, volunteers mostly, rushed to help. Greatness.
Newport Fire Chief Carl Faulk, the incident commander Monday, moved quickly from man to man, emergency radio at his mouth, barking orders. He did not panic. He did not melt. Carl Faulk has done this for close to 40 years.
“Firemen – it is a family, and when your family is down, you do what you have to do to help them,” said York County fire safety director Billy Weatherford, who was almost immediately on the scene. “Fire service is a job for some, but far bigger. It is a calling, it is in the blood, and you do it to help people.
“This time, our guys needed help.”
This time, one of those guys was Joseph Volk, who got his nickname five years ago when he came upon a fire, called it in and then jumped in to help save somebody. The name stuck, Chief Faulk said.
“His nickname is Hero,” Weatherford said. “He is called that.”
Diamanti lay there, too, on Monday. A hero just as big.
Several firefighters rushed around the scene to help the injured men, while others worked on putting out the fire. No yelling, no chaos, just the best of York County taking orders from Faulk and York Fire Chief Domenic Manera, who rushed to the scene with his crews, too.
The call was not in York’s coverage area, but the York firefighters went because help was needed and firefighters do not need to be told, “Go!”
Faulk, tall and bald, shoulders wide as an ox yoke, walked the scene with radio in hand. He wore street clothes because that’s what he arrived in.
Firefighters and emergency medical crews handled the injured Volk and Diamanti with great speed. Burned into my brain forever is the sight of those people bent at the waist over them, others kneeling, speaking words of encouragement to the fallen.
When the injured were on gurneys and had to be moved to ambulances, all these burly brawny firefighters and emergency medical workers pushed the firemen. Heavy, several-inch-thick firehoses were on the ground. Big shoulders heaved in unison to lift the wheels of the hero-laden gurneys over the hoses.
A Bethesda Volunteer Fire Department tanker pulled up, a judge smoking a Marlboro Light behind the wheel. Down from the cab, suspenders holding up his pants, jumped Bob Davenport, a volunteer at Bethesda for more than three decades. The magistrate judge stubbed out the cigarette and did what support firemen do – whatever was needed.
Davenport was unrolling hose and grabbing gear all at the same time. Firefighters from other trucks grabbed long poles, like pikes or spears, to go back to the burning house to smash out windows and other spots.
Neighbors nearby watched. Andrew King, the guy who lived in the burning house, watched from across the street. King was more worried about the injured firefighters than his house.
Real tough guys saved their buddies, while people like me jotted down notes and shot photos and video with a cellphone. Never was the vast divide between those who are heroic and those who describe their heroism more evident.
Two young firefighters came and sat on the back bumper of the Newport fire truck parked right in front of the house that still burned. Both were hot and sweaty, soot all over them. Volunteers came up with water. The young firemen hung their heads and said nothing, gulping the water. Their faces said without words that all they cared about were Volk and Diamanti.
Still, the fraternity of firefighters continued to work, changing out as new people showed up – many after working all day at regular jobs. Some stayed all night.
On Tuesday morning, Carl Faulk said Volk had come through surgery at Piedmont Medical Center in Rock Hill and is “doing good.” Diamanti was still in good condition Tuesday at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, hospital officials said.
Chief Faulk – running on adrenaline and love and devotion to his firemen after a long day and night and now a morning – drove from the Rock Hill hospital to the Charlotte hospital.
To check on the heroes.
Andrew Dys • 803-329-4065 • firstname.lastname@example.org