Office of the State College Police Department. Larry Crawford, ofc. Dean Woodring, Lt. Barrett Smith and Ofc. Ben Capozzi was honored as Center County Law Enforcement Officers of the Year on Tuesday, July 26, 2022. Photo by Geoff Rushton | StateCollege.com
Five police officers from the State College who rushed to save a woman from her burning house last year were honored Tuesday as Center County Law Enforcement Officers of the Year.
Officers Dean Woodring, Larry Crawford and Ben Capozzi and Lieutenant Barrett Smith, as well as Officer Cameron Earnest, who is no longer with the department. received the annual award presented by the Center County Attorney’s Office in a ceremony at the Bellefonte Courthouse.
“These officers displayed the highest degree of bravery, putting their own lives on the line to save another,” District Attorney Bernie Cantorna said.
“These actions of these officers reflect the bravery and courage they are willing to commit and show every day they go to work. They go to work not knowing what might happen and within seconds of being told of a fire threatening the life of a victim who was helpless, they put their own life in danger and ensured that his life was saved.
Central Region Fire Director Steve Bair wrote in a letter to State College Police Chief John Gardner that he was “truly grateful” for the quick action by officers, as well as the public works employee John McClure, who is also a volunteer firefighter with Citizen’s Hook. and Ladder Company in Milesburg.
Firefighters were on the scene within four minutes, but the large, fast-moving fire, which Bair said was caused by a kitchen appliance, meant the mobility-impaired resident likely didn’t have as much time before a much more serious result from occurring. .
The woman was treated for severe burns but survived.
“This victim was given a second chance at life through the efforts of these officers,” Gardner said.
Woodring was the first on the scene after a fire broke out around 2 p.m. March 18, 2021 at 801 Crabapple Court, where a carer had been unable to get the resident out of the house. Body camera footage released for the first time on Tuesday shows Woodring walking through heavy smoke in the house. He was soon joined by other officers and McClure and for three tense minutes the video shows how they fought through thick smoke and flames to first reach the woman and then pull her to safety.
“I don’t even know if there was a thought process. It was more of a fair reaction,” Woodring said. “I remember seeing smoke and calling things on the radio and then running in. To sit here and say I could remember what I was thinking, I don’t even know if I was thinking. It was just a reaction. It’s part of this job. I knew what I had to do and I did it. Especially in this type of situation, you can’t plan this kind of thing. It’s a reaction knowing you have a job to do…so that’s what we did.
Woodring entered the smoky garage and when he opened the door to the house, the intensity of the smoke and heat threw him backwards. He then entered the house, following the woman’s cries for help and using his flashlight to locate her through the smoke that stretched from the ceiling to the floor.
He tried to get the woman to grab onto her walker, but she couldn’t hold on as he tried to pull her forward, so Woodring radioed for more help. As he waited for their arrival, Woodring was overcome by smoke and heat and had to step outside for oxygen and to clear his vision.
Smith, Crawford, Capozzi and McClure arrived and, followed by Woodring, they entered the garage. Smith and Capozzi attempted to enter the house, but soon after Capozzi was overwhelmed by smoke and heat and was forced to return outside.
Earnest arrived next but he and the others were forced out due to the conditions inside. As they went out for some fresh air, the garage door began to crumble, causing Earnest and Smith to force it open.
Earnest then entered the house alone and located the resident. He was soon joined by the others and they managed to get the woman out of the house and into the garage. Before they could get her out, however, the group had to step away once more for some fresh air.
As they dragged the woman to the sidewalk, the garage began to collapse and an explosion, later determined to be an oxygen canister, could be heard from inside the house.
On the sidewalk, they were still in a cloud of smoke, and each of the Borough’s employees was “in great distress” from exposure to smoke and fire. Earnest, Crawford and Capozzi tended to the woman, providing her with supplemental oxygen and staying with her until EMS and firefighters took over, while Woodring and Smith were led by Sgt. Ted Hubler at a rallying point away from the active fire, which had completely engulfed the house.
All Borough employees were treated at Mount Nittany Medical Center for smoke inhalation.
“The five officers receiving recognition today embody the true meaning of what it is to protect and serve, to put the interests and well-being of others before themselves,” Gardner said. “Their actions in this incident were committed at great personal risk to their own safety and they never shied away from carrying out their duty. Where most people run from danger, these five agents ran towards danger, their only thought being the well-being of the victim trapped inside this house.
While the rescue lasted just over three minutes, Woodring said it felt much longer.
“It felt like an eternity,” he said. “So much happened in such a short time, but you don’t really think it was that short. At that point, it felt like almost an hour. It just shows you that when something like this happens, the emotions are running high, there’s just a lot to take in, a lot to take in all at once and you don’t realize how fast things can go.
A five-year veteran of the State College Police Department who had previously spent three-and-a-half years as an officer in New York City, Woodring said it was his first time running into a burning building.
“It was an experience I won’t forget, but if I had to do it again, I would do it again,” he said.
Cantorna said while the award honors individual officers each year, it is also about recognizing the broader work of Center County law enforcement.
Likewise, Woodring was quick to pass on the praise to his fellow officers.
“The awards are great and it’s good to be recognized for good work, but I think the most important aspect is that there is no difference between what I did that day. and many things that police officers do every day. The only difference is the uniqueness of this call.
“Whether officers removing a spouse or significant other from a domestic [violence situation] or removing a child from a neglectful family or something as simple as providing services or resources to someone who didn’t even know they existed, these officers save lives and their work is just as important than mine. What they do has an impact as big as mine. They just do it in a way that doesn’t necessarily get the notoriety that this kind of thing has. In my opinion they are just more the hero than any of the officers who went to that fire and I think we can probably all agree on that.
Tuesday was not the first time officers have been honored for the rescue. Last year, the State College Police Department awarded them the Medal of Valorand, with McClure, they received the Salvage Prize of the town.
It also wasn’t the first time State College officers have received the Center County Police Officer of the Year award. In fact, a State College officer has been among the recipients for each of the four years the award has been given since its inception by Cantorna’s office in 2019.
“We are truly blessed here in Center County with so many wonderful and deserving officers to choose from,” Gardner said. “It is often very difficult to focus on one or two agents in particular. But in this particular case, I think it was a no-brainer, what these officers did on March 18, 2021.”